Monday, December 20, 2010

Bonnie Langford Spends Christmas in New York

It was bitterly cold out Thursday night, but I felt cozy and happy from the warmth radiating from singer Bonnie Langford whose show, “Christmas in New York,” is part of the Brits Off Broadway series at the E: Café at 59E59 Theaters. 

The title is a bit misleading. The only real holiday note is Langford’s closing with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” but that’s quite all right. Her spirit generates the same kind of feeling any good Christmas celebration brings.

The show is one that only she could offer -- Broadway and West End music interlaced with tales of her life in show business, a career that began when she was a child from a small English town singing and dancing her way across London stages.

Right from the start she proved to be a trooper. As a 7-year-old in the musical version of Gone With the Wind, a lavish West End production, she had the great opportunity to play Bonnie, Scarlett and Rhett’s daughter, complete with her own number to belt out.

One night Noel Coward came to see the show. It was not a good night for the show’s horse, who left several mounds across the stage, requiring the production to stop while a stagehand scooped them up. After the show, Coward was asked what he thought of it. He suggested the producers could fix its two major problems with one solution -- stuff the child up the horse’s ass.

Not exactly an encouraging beginning, but the following year Langford followed up with another show, playing Baby June in the revival of Gypsy with Angela Lansbury, a woman she credits with inspiring her in “how to behave in this industry for the long run.”

“She is everything her reputation says about her and more,” Langford says.

The London gig led to playing Baby June with Lansbury on Broadway, a thrilling experience for a 10-year-old, and one that earned her a Drama Desk nomination.

“It helped me to fall in love with New York and that business we call show,” she said before launching into “Let Me Entertain You” one of her songs from Gypsy.

That was the pattern of the 75-minute show, for which she is accompanied by music director Michael Lavine -- a showbiz memory that leads into a song. I especially liked the account of her doing her Baby June number for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. After bolting out of the department store’s front door, she overshot the temporary flooring that covered the street and landed in her split right over a manhole, which as if on cue began sending steam up to surround and then hide her.

“I had a very hot butt,” she said, heading nicely into an appropriate verse from “Some People,” also from Gypsy, -- “Some people sit on their butts, got the dream, yeah, but not the guts.”

Langford definitely has guts. She not only demonstrates that she can still do the split -- and get right up -- but she also does some high kicking, bringing her leg right up the side of her body to her head. Impressive, especially considering she’s now 46.

Those dancing moves were put to work last season with her portrayal of Roxie Hart in Chicago, for which she received rave reviews both on Broadway and on the North American national tour, a role which she also played to standing ovations at the Adelphi Theatre and the Cambridge Theatre in London's West End.  She gives us a littler treat from that experience, vamping it up with the medley “Roxie/Nowadays/All That Jazz.”

She also shares some personal notes, such as that she hasn’t spent a Christmas in New York since that Gypsy experience when she was 10. Now she’s sharing this one with her 10-year-old daughter. Nice thought. She also sang a moving “The Music That Makes Me Dance” in tribute to her husband of 15 years, Paul.

After the performance, a woman at the table behind me said to her friends, “I love her humor. I was laughing. I was crying. Oh, that was so fantastic.”

I agree. Langford has such a giving personality that I felt she was welcoming us into her home rather than a cabaret space she had never been in before. She’ll be spreading her infectious cheer at the E: Café through Jan. 2.

For tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to For more information, visit 

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