|Lyrics||Alan Jay Lerner|
|Book||Alan Jay Lerner|
|Basis||The life of Coco Chanel|
Theatre producer Frederick Brisson originally had optioned Chanel's life for his wife Rosalind Russell, but Russell had developed acute arthritis, making it difficult for her to function. That meant another leading lady with star quality needed to be found. Irene Selznick suggested Katharine Hepburn, who initially scoffed at the idea of appearing in a musical but agreed to work with former MGM vocal coach Roger Edens for ten days. Following an audition in Selznick's suite at The Pierre Hotel, Hepburn felt comfortable enough to mull seriously the proposition, and was further convinced to accept the offer after meeting Chanel.
Lerner had assured the designer his book would cover only the early years of her life and career, and she was distressed when the plan was jettisoned to accommodate the older star. The highly fictionalized book and score underwent massive revisions and were far from complete when Hepburn concluded filming on The Madwoman of Chaillot, at which time she was scheduled to begin work on the show, and Coco was postponed a season while its creators worked on it.
The six-week rehearsal period finally began in September 1969. Cecil Beaton's set proved to be a complicated piece of machinery that frequently malfunctioned and was difficult for the cast to maneuver, and the final scene required a troublesome coordination of mirrors, platforms, runways, and flashing lights. Hepburn insisted the theater's thermostat be set at 60 degrees and the exterior doors left open, and most of the cast became ill due to the unusually cold fall weather.
After 40 previews, the Broadway production opened on December 18, 1969 at the Mark Hellinger Theatre, where it ran for 329 performances. Directed by Michael Benthall and choreographed by Michael Bennett, the cast included René Auberjonois, George Rose, Michael Allinson, David Holliday, Bob Avian, Jon Cypher, Suzanne Rogers, Graciela Daniele, Ann Reinking, and Gale Dixon. Danielle Darrieux replaced Hepburn eight months into the run, but without the drawing power of a major star the poorly reviewed show closed two months later.
Hepburn was scheduled to star in a West End production, but when the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane proved to be unavailable she refused to consider other venues and the project was abandoned. She headed the cast of the US national tour, which opened in Cleveland on January 11, 1971, the day after Chanel's death, which the star acknowledged at the final curtain call. She continued with the tour through June, when it ended at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. Although reviews in most cities were mediocre, it played to sold-out houses everywhere. Despite its financial success, executives at Paramount Pictures, which had financed the original Broadway production - at $900,000, the most expensive show in Broadway history at the time - in exchange for the cast album and film rights, opted not to transfer Coco to the big screen.
Coco was produced as a staged concert by 42nd Street Moon in San Francisco in April and May 2008, starring Andrea Marcovicci in the title role. The production played for a total of 16 performances. It was directed by Mark D. Kaufmann and choreographed by Jayne Zaban. Marcovicci revisited the role in September 2010 for the show's first New York revival as part of the York Theatre Company's Musicals in Mufti.
Coco was presented in London's Sadler's Wells, in 2011, as part of the Lost Musicals project, aka The Lost Musicals Charitable Trust, 1069268. Ian Marshall Fisher directed, Chris Walker, Music Director. Coco, the title role, was played by Sara Kestelman and cast included Edward Petherbridge.
Set between early autumn of 1953 and late spring of 1954, fashion designer Coco Chanel, after fifteen years of retirement, decides to return to the world of haute couture and reopen her Paris salon. With her new collection derided by the critics, she faces bankruptcy until buyers from four major American department stores - Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale's, Best & Company, and Ohrbach's - place orders with her. She becomes involved with the love life of one of her models, and flashbacks utilizing filmed sequences recall her own past romantic flings. Adding humor to the proceedings is a highly stereotypical rude gay designer who tries to impede Chanel's success. The finale is a fashion show featuring actual Chanel designs from 1918 to 1959.
Awards and nominations
Original Broadway production
|1970||Tony Award||Best Musical||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical||Katharine Hepburn||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical||René Auberjonois||Won|
|Best Direction of a Musical||Michael Benthall||Nominated|
|Best Choreography||Michael Bennett||Nominated|
|Best Costume Design||Cecil Beaton||Won|
|Theatre World Award||David Holliday||Won|
- "42nd Street Moon's Coco " 42ndstmoon.org
- Davis, Clive. " 'Coco' at the Lilian Baylis Studio, London EC1" The Times, 18 May 2011
- In a post-performance discussion with André Previn at performance of this show by the York Theatre on September 12, 2010, it was noted that character is the first gay character who plays a significant role in a Broadway show.
- A Remarkable Woman: A Biography of Katharine Hepburn by Anne Edwards, published by William Morrow and Company (1985), pages 357-372 (ISBN 0-688-04528-6)