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SEARCHING FOR GERTRUDE LAWRENCE
Written and Performed by Diana Sheehan

Part of the 2014 Out of the Loop Fringe Festival

WaterTower Theatre






Reviewed Performance 3/11/2014

Reviewed by Kristy Blackmon, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Like the woman she spends the evening celebrating, Diana Sheehan does not have a magnificent voice. She is not movie-star beautiful. She is not, in the classic sense, a great talent.

But oh, how she shines.

Sheehan has the same “something mystic and intangible” that Oscar Hammerstein attributed to Lawrence in his eulogy for her in 1952. Sheehan’s playfulness reveals a comic timing and wit that utterly charms her audience. Whether verbally dancing on the edge of bawdy humor or trilling out one of Lawrence’s signature comic tunes like “The Physician” or “The Saga of Jenny”, Sheehan channels the same energy that characterizes many great live theatrical performers. She does more than make the audience love her, she makes no effort to hide that she is in love with her audience right back.

Though much of the material Sheehan and James McQuillen, who arranged the score and provided musical direction, showcase exemplifies Lawrence’s gay, capricious nature and the spirited characters she played so well, there are moments of misty solemnity as well. During somber moments and wistful ballads such as “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “Hello, Young Lovers”, Sheehan reveals a soulful, sort of beautiful weariness that evokes sadness for legends taken from us too soon. “How can the memory of one of our greatest stars become so ephemeral?” Sheehan asks early on. There is regret here as well as celebration.

However, even when narrating the end of Lawrence’s life—her battle with cancer, her early death at age 54—Sheehan conveys a rare, pure sense of joy and spirit. Describing Lawrence’s discovery of liver cancer during the run of The King and I, Sheehan pulls lyrics from that show to symbolize Lawrence’s outlook on life: “Whenever I’m afraid, I hold my head erect / and whistle a happy tune so no one will suspect…”. It is a very powerful moment because of Sheehan’s spot on instincts and insight. She and McQuillen do a beautiful job tying Lawrence’s greatest hits to key points in her life, essentially using her work to create a soundtrack for her life. Utterly charming from open to close, Sheehan carries this one-woman examination of Gertrude Lawrence’s life and work almost effortlessly. Whether reading risqué telegrams from Lawrence’s long-time friend and collaborator Noel Coward, spritzing the hem of her breathtaking 1950’s ball gown with Chanel No. 5 to “give the audience a pleasant olfactory experience”, or recalling the highlights of Lawrence’s long list of love interests, Sheehan is engaging and entertaining.

She is, quite simply, a star.




SEARCHING FOR GERTRUDE LAWRENCE
Diana Sheehan

Final performances on Saturday, March 15th at 8:00 pm, and Sunday, March 16th at 2:00 pm

Part of the 2014 Out of the Loop Fringe Festival


Other reviews from the festival:
An Evening with DNCB
Antarctica
Beware of Plastics
Butcher Holler Here We Come
Express From 59th
Falling Man
Honky
(K) New Order
Mozart's Muze
No Show: A One Woman Show
One Raelette's Journey
Passport to Womanhood