"girl who came to supper"

Published December 8, 1963


THE GIRL WHO CAME TO SUPPER WITH Tessie O’Shea, Florence Henderson, Irene Brown, José Ferrer, Sean Scully. 1963



(L to R) Tessie O’Shea, Florence Henderson, Irene Brown, José Ferrer, Sean Scully

The Girl Who Came to Supper was the last musical with a Coward score and the only one of Noël’s musicals never produced in London.

In 1962, Herman Levin, who had produced My Fair Lady, phoned Noël Coward and asked him to write the score for The Sleeping Prince, which was being turned into a musical. Noël was reluctant at first, but as he loved the Terence Rattigan play, he agreed.

Geoffrey Johnson, an assistant stage manager on the show, said that during the pre-Broadway tour, too many changes were made that weren’t improvements. The show was a smash in Boston, less so in Toronto, and the tinkering began. According to Geoffrey, everyone believed that it was getting better, but it wasn’t. Then tragedy struck. During the Philadelphia run, President Kennedy was assassinated. The cast was devastated. The song “Long Live the King (If He Can),” about royal assassins, was pulled from the show. Girl began previews on Broadway two weeks after the assassination.

Despite the show’s rocky road to Broadway, it had a gala opening night. Noël wrote, “The opening night was the most fabulous evening I can ever remember in the theater. The glittering, star-spangled audience was wonderful from the very beginning. José Ferrer was better than he had ever been, and although that is not good enough for me, he made a great success and nearly stopped the show. Florence Henderson was excellent, not a fault, an efficient, perfectly timed performance which only lacked the essential: heart. She was too sure, too competent and had lost the charm she had in Boston. The star of the evening was Tessie O’Shea, whose ovation during and after “London” held up proceedings for almost five minutes. I have never heard such cheering. She fully earned it because she was warm, friendly, and gave a perfect performance. It was thrilling to see that rumbustious, bouncing old-timer, after some years of limbo, come back and tear the place up. The whole evening was quite extraordinary.”

Tessie O’Shea appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show a few weeks after Girl opened, performing selections from her “London” number. While Girl was still running, Tessie returned to appear on the most famous of all of Sullivan’s shows: “Meet the Beatles.” For her performance as fish-and-chips monger Ada Cockle, Tessie O’Shea won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.

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