Great Moments in New York Theater - Christopher Plummer in Barrymore
It probably began with The Sound of Music, I admit it. I think I was seven when my father took the entire family to see the movie on Easter Sunday. It became a movie that would stay with me, become a part of my daily dialogue, for the rest of my life. I am certain, though, that my ardent admiration for the man came from movies like Somewhere In Time, Inside Man, Dolores Claiborne, Ordeal by Innocence, Inside Daisy Clover, The Thorn Birds, Must Love Dogs… the list of movies the man has made that broadened my appreciation of his work is long. There is also his work on audio books (his Goodbye Mr Chips is one of my favs) and repeated playings of the Broadway cast album of Cyrano. I just love the man. He is astounding.
I first saw Mr Plummer live in 1988. He was appearing at the legendary Mark Hellinger Theater with the incomparable Miss Glenda Jackson in Macbeth. We were in town to see my friend Steve Barton in the new musical Phantom of the Opera and knew we were not going to miss seeing this production. Pat is a Shakespeare aficionado AND an Anglophile so missing Glenda Jackson’s Lady M was out of the question. We both love Mr Plummer, so that was that. Macbeth it was. In those days I was still collecting autographs, so I bought the poster from the show and a silver ink pen and waited before a matinee to get the autographs of the stars. Waiting before the show with a handful of other people I was amazed to look up and see Miss Jackson walking up 51st street in jeans and a grey sweatshirt, looking at the sky. I approached with the words “I hate to bother you on your way to work…” “You’re going to, anyway, aren’t you?” She was most gracious and chatted a moment, signed the poster and went on. Minutes later, Mr Plummer’s car drove up to drop him off and I stopped him to ask for his own autograph – he was very kind, making attempt after attempt to get the silver ink to flow onto the cardboard “Does it work?” I said yes, it just worked for Glenda Jackson… and there we go.. ink! That poster hangs in my office. I can see it from where I am sitting, now.
It would be years before I caught Mr Plummer onstage again.
But it was well worth the wait.
I smiled when I saw the artwork for Barrymore. It was elegant, so whimsical, it looked like it was going to be a fun. Play. I didn’t really know a lot about John Barrymore – that was more Pat’s area of expertise. And I don’t usually trust one man shows (it wasn’t technically a one man show; but it, essentially, a one man show) but I do trust Christopher Plummer. And I was right! We got the sweetest seats in the front of the mezzanine so we could see absolutely everything… except the only thing to see was a big empty stage with minimal set and Christopher Plummer being John Barrymore! Well, that was simply more than enough for me.
This was one of those delightful plays (written by William Luce) that is designed just to entertain. You know, it isn’t easy to write a play about a real life person, and have it come out just right. It can beat a dead horse, come out insincere, which is bad, or campy, which is worse. William Luce, though, gave the audience a multi dimensional person for Mr Plummer to play, not just a caricature of a famed old Hollywood movie star. There were as many laughs from the audience as there were sighs, as we marveled at the force of nature that is Christopher Plummer and the eye of the hurricane that was John Barrymore. It was what they call a tour de force; and you know what? The best part was that you could see how much Mr Plummer was enjoying himself. That gave an added layer to the audience’s enjoyment of the show. I was grinning like a daft loon, in a heavenly state, from watching my favourite famous actor at his best.
Clearly, I wasn’t the only person who thought it was his best because Christopher Plummer was given a Tony award for best performance by an actor in a leading role.
I felt very validated. There was, indeed, proof that I had good taste.