A while back, I posted a video of Yul Brynner singing the iconic "Shall We Dance"? number on the 1971 Tony Awards with Patricia Morison (who had been the final replacement 'Anna' on Broadway in 1954, and then went on the national tour with Brynner).
Twenty years later, in 1977, Yul Brynner revived the role and went on another national tour, this time with Constance Towers starring with him as 'Anna.' It's a production I saw in Los Angeles that was memorable -- not just for the show itself, but Brynner's masterful curtain call which is too difficult to describe properly. But I'll try.
For the curtain call, everyone has made their entrance on stage for their bows, but Brynner, who of course is last. The audience waits, and then finally he strides on. And I mean, he strides on -- not as Yul Brynner taking his bows, but as the king. Owning the stage, powerfully storming in. And then he stops downstage center, and waits, hands on hip, legs spread far apart, still glaring at the audience. Because he is The King.
You know the pose, I'm sure.
And the audience cheers and cheers. And yet, Brynner just keeps holding the pose. Almost interminably, it seems. Probably a good, long minute, most likely longer. Just standing there, glaring out, as the audience keeps cheering.
And this is a man who knows this role with every fiber of his being, having ultimately played it 4,625. Knows the role, and knows the curtain call. And knows every nuance of every moment. And so he waits. And waits. And waits. Refusing to break character. And waits. As the audience keeps applauding and standing and cheering.
And then...FINALLY...at the exact, right, perfect moment -- he throws his arms high in the air and breaks out in a major smile, and at last Yul Brynner accepted with great warmth and appreciation the cheers. Which at this point, not surprising, turn to roars.
It's a phenomenal, memorable stage moment. Glad I saw it.
This is a man who knew that role. Which is why it must have been a challenge, if not a bit intimidating for an actress to play opposite him. Keep in mind, too, when the show initially opened on Broadway, the main role was 'Anna,' and the star was Gertrude Lawrence. She was who had her name over the title. Alone. In huge letters. The King was the supporting role, and Yul Brynner's name was below the title. That he became the star and iconic with the show speaks volumes about how challenging it must have been to play opposite him.
And all the more so in this number, the famous "Shall We Dance?" One of the great stage moments in Broadway history. (I absolutely LOVE the moment -- the moment -- when the King finally places his hand behind Anna's back, there is a pause...and then they burst into their fierce, graceful waltz around the stage -- at which point the audience always bursts into emotional applause.
Here is that moment from that 1977 revival with Constance Towers, performed in a TV studio in New York (where the show was then-playing) but sent by satellite to the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon.
And if it wasn't clear how much Yul Brynner owns the stage in this role, and how intimidating a challenge it was to perform opposite him, consider as you watch this video how riveted you are by Yul Brynner at the beginning when Constance Towers is the one singing...and He is Saying Nothing. For some of the time, he is even DOING NOTHING. But just owning the stage with his presence. It isn't just that he is standing there, but how he holds his body standing there.
And what's remarkable, too, is if you see him in his Oscar-winning performance of the film in the 50s, and his performance with Patricia Morison and this in 1977, a quarter of a century later, all of his performance are near spot-on the same down to the little nuances, yet fresh and vibrant, as if it was his first performance. Aspiring actors take note.
All the more credit to Constance Towers who holds her own wonderfully and performs so well.
But when you've played the role for 4,625 performances, which is the equivalent of almost 12 years (!), you have a head start...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
Feedspot Badge of Honor