TOWER staff writer

The world of music and theater in the 1920s-1940s era evokes images of glamour, romance, and a certain degree of escapism in the post-WWI period and continuing through the great depression and second World War. Within this setting, the image of Noel Coward stands out as especially memorable not only as a playright, actor, and renaissance man, but as a character in his own right notable for his wit, confidence, and charm.

NoelGertie.jpg“Noel and Gertie”, a musical- or “bio-play” as it is termed by director Luke Hardt- offers to take audience members into Cowards world in an elegant cabaret experience. In addition to being one of the highlights of the spring theater season, the show will serve as the capstone project for senior Andrew Ferguson, who plays the role of Coward.

Furgeson, like coward, is a man of varied interests with a glowing enthusiasm for his work. His eyes light up as he talks about preparing for the role, and contemplates his future as an actor. Ferguson plans to get his MFA in theater and hopes to act professionally. Speaking of his character in the upcoming play, he says, “Noel Coward was confident and deliberate. He always knew what he was doing.” One notes a similar determination in Ferguson- humble, but no less passionate.

Ferguson connected with the character of Coward by researching his life, studying his plays, and observing his personality and mannerisms in detail. As part of his graded project, he will present a portfolio, known as “the book”, containing all of his research, character development, and blocking notes.

The show, which will be presented by Bethany College Theatre Feb. 28 through March 2, tells the story of the lifelong romance between coward and his partner in life and art, Gertrude Lawrence. The script is based on Coward's autobiography and personal letters, and scenes from his life are interspersed with songs from his well-known plays. “It's a really unique structure for a play,” says Ferguson. “It shows the progression of his work, his relationship with Gertie, and his impact on the world. He wrote stories that people want to be a part of.” 

“Noel and Gertie” will be shown in Maxwell's, a considerably more intimate setting than the usual venue of Wailes Theatre. In order to recreate the experience of a bygone age of theater, guests to the show are encouraged to dress up in formal attire, and free “mocktails” will be provided for all who participate. The goal is to create a setting that is elegant, classy, and like much of Coward's work, an opportunity to escape into a different life.

Playing the role of Gertrude Lawrence is Kim Douglass, nee Allison, who is the daughter of Jim Allison, a former Bethany College professor, and Judy Allison, who served as a nurse at the college for 30 years. Douglas has performed in many local theater productions, and teaches piano, voice, and elementary level music. “If we were charging $10 a ticket, it would be worth it to hear her sing,” says Luke Hardt.

Hardt, who worked closely with Ferguson as director in choosing and developing the play, stated that his purpose in “Noel and Gertie” is to introduce a new generation to two of the greatest talents in the history of musical theater. Describing the play itself, he repeats with a mischievous smile Coward's own words: “iridescent, delightfully daring, with irreverent allusion to copulation!”

The combination of biography and art in the show present Coward as he was, both man and creator, a sheer force of personality. Ferguson describes the scenes from his life as funny and well-written, demonstrative of the strength and humor for which Coward was known among his friends and peers. The show scenes, meanwhile, are “elaborate” and transport the audience into the mind of the artist himself.

In addition to work on and off the stage, Ferguson enjoys film production and music, but his real love is stage acting. “On the stage,” says Ferguson, “the show is alive.” His dream role is of Mark from the musical “Rent”.

There is no charge for admission to “Noel and Gertie”, but seating is very limited and filling up quickly, so guests are encouraged to call in advance. The number for reservations is (304) 829-7124.


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