Oh, Coward! is a musical revue in two acts devised by Roderick Cook and containing music and lyrics by Noël Coward. The revue consists of two men and one woman in formal dress, performing songs based on the following themes: England, family album, travel, theatre, love and women. There are also sketches, such as "London Pastoral" which tells of the joys of London in the spring, "Family Album" about relatives who "were not excessively bright", and a scene with excerpts from several of Coward's plays, such as Private Lives.
A Coward revue at the 1968 Vancouver International Festival called And Now Noël Coward…: An Agreeable Impertinence, was created and directed by Roderick Cook and starred Dorothy Loudon. It received scathing reviews from the critics. It was soon revised and presented on Broadway, with mostly the same cast, as Noël Coward's Sweet Potato. Though it received slightly better notices, it lasted only 44 performances. Cook again reshaped the material, as Oh, Coward!, premiering the work in Toronto, then touring it to Boston and Chicago.
Oh, Coward! opened Off-Broadway with a new cast on 4 October 1972 and was one of the last Noël Coward shows staged during his life. It played for 294 performances at the New Theatre. Its cast included Barbara Cason, Jamie Ross and Cook, who also directed the revue. A London production opened on 5 June 1975 at the Criterion Theatre, starring Cook, Ross and Geraldine McEwan, and ran until 2 August 1975. The show later played on Broadway beginning on 17 November 1986 at the Helen Hayes Theatre, where it ran for 56 performances. Again directed by and starring Cook, the cast also featured Catherine Cox and Patrick Quinn. The production received two Tony Award nominations, Best Actor and Actress in a Musical for Cook and Cox.
Of the London production, Michael Billington of The Guardian wrote, "the star performer is undeniably Mr Cook himself... with a dangerous tooth-baring smile... he delivers each syllable of each song with a clinical, omniscient precision. Geraldine McEwan, willowy and acidulous in white satin, likewise realises that merciless articulation is the key to Coward performing, and Jamie Ross amiably makes up the trio in the manner of someone completing a country house party." The New York Times review of the 1986 production noted, "The performance is determinedly low-key and genteel, in keeping with its source. Neither in the selection of material nor in the performances does the show overstep into self-parody, as is often the case in other musical anthologies. As before, Mr. Cook lets Coward speak and sing for himself, which he does, trippingly."
A review of the original cast recording compared it with the contemporary London show, Cowardy Custard: "The formula is much the same, a show made out of Noël Coward's writing and composing. Where it differs is that Cowardy Custard was a carefully co-ordinated revue, this is more of a cabaret entertainment, the songs being delivered by the three performers without, as far as one can judge from the recording, any attempt at staging, accompanied by two pianos, bass, drums and percussion... the Coward enthusiast will note the first recording ever of his early trio 'Bright Young People'."
Note: Partial list
- Flinn, Denny Martin. Little musicals for little theatres (2006), p. 229, Hal Leonard Corporation, ISBN 0-87910-321-3
- Oh, Coward! at MTI Shows
- Bowie, Stephen. "Dorothy and Noël", Library for the Performing Arts, 15 August 2012
- Atkey, Mel. Broadway North: The Dream of a Canadian Musical Theatre, Natural Heritage Books, 2006, p. 88 ISBN 1897045085
- The Guardian, 6 June 1975, p. 10; and 2 August 1975, p. 7
- The Guardian, 6 June 1975, p. 10
- Gussow, Mel. "Theatre: 'Oh Coward' is Revived",The New York Times, 18 November 1986
- Myers, Peter. The Gramophone, January 1974, p. 110