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Kay Thompson
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PART TWO: BEHIND THE SCENES BEHIND THE SCENES ON STAGE PLAYS: Si, Si, Señorita (American Theatre, St. Louis, Missouri, 5/7/1930-5/10/1930) Produced by the Washington University musical organization known as the “Quadrangle Club.”  Aside from performing as the lead singer of "The Trio," Kay Thompson (billed as “Catherine Fink”) served as the “Assistant Music Director.” Princess Nita (Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, circa. spring 1932) Aside from performing in the ensemble cast, Kay Thompson (billed as “Catherine Fink”) served as the “Assistant Music Director.” Leonard Sillman’s Low and Behold! (Pasadena Community Playhouse, 5/16/1933-6/3/1933) Aside from starring in the ensemble cast, Kay Thompson served as a pianist, composer, vocal arranger, choral arranger, and choral director. Although Kay only performed in the Pasadena run of this show, it was staged again at the Music Box in Hollywood and then revamped for Broadway where it played under the title Leonard Sillman’s New Faces of 1934. Presumably, some of Kay’s vocal arrangements made it into these later productions. Hooray for What! (Tryouts: Colonial Theatre, Boston, Massachusetts, 10/28/1937-11/13/1937; and, Forrest Theatre, Philadelphia, 11/16/1937-11/28/1937; Broadway: Winter Garden Theatre, New York, preview performance: 11/30/1937; Broadway run: 12/1/1937-5/21/1938) Choral and vocal arrangements: Kay Thompson. Featuring the Kay Thompson Singers (including Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane). Choral director: Kay Thompson. Directed by Vincente Minnelli. Choreography by Agnes DeMille (replaced by Bob Alton half-way through the Boston tryout). Song score by Harold Arlen and E. Y. “Yip” Harburg. Starring Ed Wynn. During the Boston tryout for this Broadway-bound musical, Kay Thompson played the femme fatale role of Stephania Stephanovich; but, after nine performances (ending 11/5/1937), Kay was replaced by her understudy Vivian Vance who continued in the role throughout the Philadelphia tryout and the entire Broadway run. Fellow cast members Hannah Williams and Roy Roberts were also fired during the Boston tryout, replaced by June Clyde and Jack Whiting respectively. The Philadelphia tryout program listed “The Kay Thompson Singers,” and Kay also received the following attribution: “Soloists Coached by Miss Kay Thompson.” For the duration of the Broadway run, the Playbill program credited Thompson thusly: “The Singing Ensemble coached by Miss Kay Thompson.” The Lyric Revue ‘51  / The Globe Revue ’51-’52. The Lyric Revue (Tryout performances in various U.K. towns, circa 5/1951; official run, Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, West London, 5/24/1951- 9/22/1951). Then, the show changed venues and became known as The Globe Revue (Globe Theatre, West End, London, 9/26/1951-6/28/1952) Kay Thompson coached and choreographed one of the show’s ensemble players, Graham Payn (Noël Coward’s companion). Kay also composed Graham’s showstopper “Lucky Day,” with the program credit: “Lyrics and Music by Kay Thompson; Arranged by Kay Thompson.” The Globe Revue ’52-’53 (Globe Theatre, West End, London, 7/10/1952-1/31/1953) Featuring many of the same cast members as The Globe Revue from the previous season, the songs and sketches were entirely new. Kay Thompson coached and choreographed one of the show’s ensemble players, Graham Payn (Noël Coward’s companion). Kay also composed a brand new showstopper for Payn entitled “Kiss the Girls Goodbye,” with the program credit: “Lyrics and Music by Kay Thompson; Arranged by Kay Thompson.” Several weeks into the run, due to popular demand, Kay’s “Lucky Day” number from the previous season was restored to the repertoire, in addition to her new number. Two’s Company (Tryout engagements: Cass Theatre, Detroit, opened 10/19/1952; Nixon Theatre, Pittsburgh, opened early 11/1952; Shubert Theatre, Boston, opened 11/17/1952; Broadway run: Alvin Theatre, New York, 12/15/1952-3/8/1953) Vocal coach for Bette Davis: Kay Thompson. Mr. Wonderful (Broadway Theatre, New York, 3/26/1956-2/23/1957) Creative consultant: Kay Thompson. The show’s producer-conceiver Jule Styne originally asked Thompson to choreograph the show until the show’s star, Sammy Davis Jr., insisted that he would create his own choreography. Then, Styne wanted Kay to work with composers Larry Holofcener, Jerry Bock and George Weiss to create the original song score, but she declined. Instead, she recommended augmenting the score with a slew of standards, including “It’s All Right with Me” (Cole Porter), “That Old Black Magic” (Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer), and “Liza” (George Gershwin-Ira Gershwin-Gus Kahn), for which she contributed the vocal arrangements. Kay also consulted on the costume designs by Robert Mackintosh. Happy Hunting (Majestic Theatre, New York, 12/6/1956-11/30/1957) Kay Thompson was the creative consultant, vocal coach, and vocal arranger for the show’s star and producer Ethel Merman. Kay also recommended Virginia Gibson for the supporting role of Beth Livingstone. Gibson had just played one of Thompson’s fashion magazine assistants in Funny Face. Gibson was Tony-nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Happy Hunting. During the tryout in Philadelphia, Kay composed a completely new opening number for Merman, “Gee, But It’s Great to Be Here,” though for contractual reasons, credit was awarded to the show’s original composers, Harold Karr and Matt Dubey. In the spring of 1957, when the show failed to win any Tony awards, Merman replaced two of her weakest Karr-Dubey songs with new songs composed by Kay Thompson and Roger Edens: “Just a Moment Ago” and “I’m Old Enough To Know Better and Young Enough Not To Care.” Because Edens was exclusive to MGM, Kay received sole songwriting credit. Jamaica (Imperial Theatre, New York, 10/31/1957-4/11/1959) Vocal coach and advisor for Lena Horne: Kay Thompson. At a party at Clifton Webb’s home in August 1957, Lena Horne asked Kay for advice on her upcoming Broadway debut in Jamaica, the new Harold Arlen-Yip Harburg musical. Privately, they went over all the songs (including “Napoleon’s a Pastry,” revived and updated from Hooray for What!), fine-tuned the vocal arrangements and phrasing, and called in Peter Matz to compose some supplementary dance music and write additional lyrics. The effort paid off. Jamaica  was nominated for seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Actress in a Musical. Valmouth (York Playhouse, New York, opened 10/6/1960; length of run undetermined) Sandy Wilson’s off-Broadway musical comedy starring Gail Jones (Lena Horne’s daughter, later known as Gail Lumet Buckley). Vocal coach for Gail Jones: Kay Thompson. Gail recalled: “I was very timid about singing. So, Kay put on records of the Hi-Lo’s and Ethel Merman. Then she turned the volume up very loud, almost deafening, and she said, ‘I want you to sing along with these people—loud! Sing out so that the head and the chest come together. You’ve got to sing through it!’ It wasn’t a pretty sound to begin with, but she got me to make my voice bigger. Then she worked with me to make it sound better.” Wildcat (Try-out: Erlanger Theatre, Philadelphia, 10/29/1960-12/9/1960; Broadway previews: Alvin Theatre, New York: 12/16-17/1960; Broadway run: Alvin Theatre, New York: 12/16/1960-6/3/1961) Vocal coach for Lucille Ball: Kay Thompson. Pal Joey (Summer stock tour: Columbus, Dayton, and Warren, Ohio, 7/18/1961-7/23/1961) Produced by the John Kenley Players Theatre Circuit, starring Andy Williams and Julie Wilson. Creative consultant and coach for Andy Williams: Kay Thompson. Producer John Kenley recalled, “Kay traveled with Andy. By the time they arrived, we had the musical all laid out and we had to get it on in five days, including the dress rehearsal. It was boom, boom, boom.” Nevertheless, Thompson insisted on adding a number from Gypsy, “All I Need Is the Girl” (Jule Styne–Stephen Sondheim), for Andy to sing as the first-act curtain number. “Kay was absolutely brilliant,” Kenley remembered. “She brought out the best in Andy and was highly respected by all.” Coco (Mark Hellinger Theatre, New York, 12/18/1969-10/3/1970) When Gloria Swanson was preparing to replace Katharine Hepburn as Coco Chanel in the Broadway musical Coco, Kay Thompson was hired to coach Swanson and get her prepared for the role. Kay had Gloria “walking 26 blocks daily to build up her stamina” until Swanson’s excessive contractual demands kiboshed the whole affair. Applause (Palace Theatre, New York, 3/30/1970-7/27/1972) When it was announced that Rita Hayworth would replace Lauren Bacall as Margo Channing in Applause—the musical adaptation of All About Eve—Hayworth moved into The Plaza to be near Thompson, counting on her coaching and moral support. “My mother really depended on Kay,” recalled Princess Yasmin Khan (daughter of Hayworth and Prince Aly Khan). “And Kay was always there for her. They were very, very close. For Applause, Kay was coaching my mother, trying to help her with her confidence, but my mom was sick and she couldn’t remember anything. So, it was a real drama and turmoil and panic. Of course, none of us knew it was Alzheimer’s. Finally, my mother had to pull out.” Follies (Winter Garden Theatre, New York, 4/04/1971-7/01/1972) Director Hal Prince appointed Kay Thompson to coach Alexis Smith for the Stephen Sondheim musical Follies. Mart Crowley recalled, “Kay had Alexis go through some simple vocal exercises, then stopped, turned to her, and said, ‘You have no talent at all, and you shouldn’t be doing this show. I can’t help you.’” Smith ignored the opinion and went on to win a Tony. Irene (Minskoff Theatre, New York, 3/13/1973-9/08/1974) Kay Thompson was hired to be the vocal coach for ensemble cast member Carrie Fisher (whose mother Debbie Reynolds was the star of the show). By coincidence, the artwork for the poster for Irene was drawn by Hilary Knight, illustrator of Kay Thompson’s Eloise books. Chicago (46th Street Theatre, New York, 8/8/1975-9/13/1975) Vocal coach and advisor to Liza Minnelli (who briefly replaced Gwen Verdon in the role of Roxie Hart): Kay Thompson. The Act (Majestic Theatre, New York, 10/29/1977-7/01/1978) Vocal coach and advisor to Liza Minnelli (who starred in the role of Michelle Craig): Kay Thompson. The Rink (Martin Beck Theatre, New York, 2/09/1984-8/04/1984) Vocal coach and advisor to Liza Minnelli (who starred in the role of Angel): Kay Thompson. Victor / Victoria (Marquis Theatre, 1/1996) Advisor to Liza Minnelli (who briefly replaced Julie Andrews in the title role): Kay Thompson.
Kayographies
Think Pink! Think Pink! Think Pink! Part One: Headlining Part Two: Behind the Scenes Part Three: The Music Part Four: The Books
Ed Wynn and Kay Thompson in Hooray for What!, 1937