Sail Away (musical)

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Sail Away
Music Noël Coward
Lyrics Noël Coward
Book Noël Coward
Productions 1961 Broadway
1962 West End
1998 Woking, England revival

Sail Away is a musical with a book, music and lyrics by Noël Coward. The show was the last musical for which Coward wrote both the book and music, although he wrote the music for one last "book" musical in 1963. The story centres around brash, bold American divorcee Mimi Paragon, working as a hostess on a British cruise ship. The musical ran on Broadway (1961) and in the West End (1962) and has been revived since.


Elaine Stritch started in the show in a "relatively minor role and was only promoted over the title and given virtually all the best songs when it was reckoned that the leading lady...although excellent, was rather too operatic for a musical comedy."[1] During out-of-town tryouts in Boston, Coward was "unsure about the dramatic talents" of one of the leads, opera singer Jean Fenn.[2] "They were, after all, engaged for their voices is madness to expect two singers to play subtle 'Noel Coward' love scenes with the right values and sing at the same time."[2] Joe Layton suggested "What would happen if ...we just eliminated [Fenn's] role and gave everything to Stritch? ...The show was very old-fashioned, and the thing that was working was Elaine Stritch...every time she went on stage [she] was a sensation. The reconstructed 'Sail Away'...opened in New York on 3 October."[2]

According to Ben Brantley, "Coward wrote in his diary that Ms. Stritch sang 'so movingly that I almost cried.' He went on to say about making her the show's star: 'There is no doubt about it. I made the right decision.' "[3]


Sail Away had out-of-town tryouts for three weeks each in Boston and Philadelphia. The show opened on Broadway on 3 October 1961 at the Broadhurst Theatre and closed on 24 February 1962 after 167 performances. Directed by Coward, Joe Layton choreographed, with scenic design by Oliver Smith, costumes by Helene Pons and Oliver Smith, and lighting by Peggy Clark. The original Broadway cast starred Elaine Stritch as Mimi Paragon,[4] James Hurst as John Van Mier, and Margalo Gillmore as Mrs. Van Mier.[5][6]

The show was then staged at the Savoy Theatre in the West End in 1962, where it ran for 252 performances,[7] directed by Coward. The original London cast starred Stritch and David Holliday as John, and featured Grover Dale, Sheila Forbes, Edith Day, John Hewer, Stella Moray and Tony Adams.[8][9] The musical was then produced, with Coward's personal directorial attention, in Melbourne in 1963, starring Maggie Fitzgibbon.[10]

It was revived at the Rhoda McGaw Theatre in Woking, England in 1998.[11] A staged concert version was performed at Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall in November 1999, starring Stritch and directed by Gerald Gutierrez.[3] A concert version played in July 2008 at Sadler's Wells' Lilian Baylis Theatre, directed by Ian Marshall Fisher in the Lost Musicals series, starring Penny Fuller as Mimi, Vivienne Martin as Mrs. Van Mier, and Rupert Young as John.[4]

Not only did Coward write the book, music and lyrics, and also direct the show, he even designed the show poster.[9] Some of the well-known songs include "Why Do the Wrong People Travel?" "Useless, Useful Phrases", "The Customer's Always Right" and the title song. The song "Sail Away" was first used by Coward in his 1950 musical Ace of Clubs.


Mimi Paragon is the American cruise director on board the British luxury cruise ship Carolonia, bound for a Mediterranean cruise. Mimi is middle-aged and divorced. The younger Johnny Van Mier romances Mimi. During the course of their ship romance, they have to deal with annoying and troublesome passengers such as the Sweeneys. The Sweeneys confide that the secret to their long marriage is that they have disliked each other so intensely, over such a long period of time, that others now find them endearing. ("The Bronxville Darby and Joan").


A song titled "The Bronxville Darby and Joan" was added for the London production.[11]


  1. ^ Sheridan Morley. "Chapter:Pomp and Circumstance" Noël Coward, Haus Publishing, 2005, ISBN 1-904341-88-8, p. 126
  2. ^ a b c Hoare, Philip. "Sail Away" Noel Coward: A Biography, University of Chicago Press, 1998, ISBN 0-226-34512-2, p. 472
  3. ^ a b Brantley, Ben. "The Magic Takes Longer But the Wand Seems Intact". The New York Times, 6 November 1999
  4. ^ a b Shenton, Mark. "Penny Fuller to Sail Away to London"., 14 May 2008
  5. ^ Taubman, Howard. "Review: Sail Away", The New York Times, 4 October 1961, p. 48
  6. ^ "Internet Broadway Database listing, 'Sail Away', 1961"., accessed 1 February 2011
  7. ^ "1962 chronology"., accessed 4 March 2011
  8. ^ See "Sail Away: Original London Cast" (1962)., accessed 5 March 2011 and the liner notes for the Fynsworth Alley label CD release (2003).
  9. ^ a b Payn, Graham and Morley, Sheridan. "'Sail Away'". The Noel Coward Diaries, Da Capo Press, 1982, ISBN 0-306-80960-5, p. 459
  10. ^ "Sail Away to New York"., accessed 3 March 2011
  11. ^ a b Wright, Adrian. Sail Away, Just-the-Ticket Productions website, Stewart Nicholls, artistic director,

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