Legendary stars of stage and screen, British actors Juliet and Hayley Mills star in James Kirkwood’s hilarious and touching comedy Legends!
Legends! is the story of two once-big movie stars, Sylvia Glenn and Leatrice Monsee, who hated each other in real life with a passion. Now, many years later, with old age and poverty staring them in the face, a crass, opportunistic young producer named Martin Klemmer hopes to bring them back together onstage to ensure an audience for a new play he hopes to produce. Back stabbing and banter is the promised recipe!
The play also stars Maxwell Caulfield (Juliet’s real life husband) Leah Howard, Phillip Lowe and David Denis. The play’s original tour starred Broadway legends Mary Martin and Carol Channing – quite a pedigree!
For Australian Actor, Director, and Choreographer Leah Howard the opportunity to perform with the sisters is an absolute blast as well as a fabulous learning opportunity.
Howard plays Aretha Thomas, a sassy African American woman in her mid 40’s who currently works in service for an old Hollywood movie star Dorothy Coulter.
“Aretha’s’ boss is away so girlfriend is gonna play!” says Howard. “So she is setting up the house for her nieces surprise hens party! In walks SYLVIA GLENN (Juliet Mills) and the play truly begins…..Aretha LOVES the movies, the hype, the gossip and the glamour so as reluctant as she is to help Sylvia Glenn out she relishes the moments like she is having her own private movie star party and they have all come into her house so she truly does own the situation!”
For Howard, her character explores not only the very nature of strong women of race, colour, or creed but also the bond between women ” that no matter who we are we or what level society put us on we can stand strong together.”
“What I love about sitting backstage when I am not on and listening to the girls talk about Love, Jealousy, Rage, Sadness, Sickness, Friendship, Comradeship, Strength, Courage, Determination. So many themes and so little time but they do it with pure style, class and bitchiness!”
This is Howard’s first foray into straight acting, having starred in Mary Poppins, Avenue Q, Hair and Fame The Musical to name a short few, so, she says, was absolutely freaking out to be starring alongside part of an acting dynasty.
“Not only am I doing a straight play with no song or dance to save me but I was also up there with 3, and I hate to use the word, but living “legends” who have worked far and wide and there’s lil ole me trying to be a cool rider (see what I did there?!) and not jump out of my skin. It was so exciting to be taking on this mammoth challenge and I admit I had to phone a friend (Mitchell Butel) one day to help me get over some minor text complications I was having and I thank him dearly for getting me through, but I just couldn’t see how I was going to learn all these words and add character to them without song or choreography. Lucky enough the show has a vaudeville rhythm so I locked onto that rhythm and am riding it all the way to the finish line baby! Our director Christopher Renshaw was also amazing and supportive through my whole new process and his knowledge, direction and openness made it that much easier. As corny as it may sound, going to work everyday with this lot, cast, crew and creative team is a complete and utter JOY!”
Hayley and Juliet Mills are both acclaimed, award winning actors. The daughters of Sir John Mills and playwright Mary Hayley Bell, both began their career as children and have never looked back. Their body of work is mammoth as is their talent. Howard clearly appreciates the opportunity to be working with the sisters and Caulfield, responding to the question of what it is like to be working with them in a now familiar Leah Howard fashion: “It’s actually horrible!! They are so nice and I just love them to pieces.”
“I thought I had so many words to learn well I ain’t got nothing on them! I sit in Arethas’ backstage kitchen and listen to the show and their scenes and it just takes me away, their story telling is full of heart and soul it’s like listening to two old friends chatting away.”
“The girls and Maxwell have been nothing but supportive and encouraging of me and are very giving on the floor and I have enjoyed watching them make choices and changes and experiment with our scenes in the rehearsal room, it’s a great learning experience. How can it not be when you are sitting with 6 degrees of separation to Sir John Mils, Walt Disney, Noel Coward and Laurence Olivier (Their godfathers). Pretty damn awesome!”
Howard has her own moments that challenge as well as moments that are special. The challenge: “… having to talk and make a gin on the rocks at the same time….who does that?!?!” The special is a line: “My reason for loving this line has actually nothing to do with the play actually but I have a Star Wars line in the movie “May the force be with you” and every time I land it I think of my godson Leo who absolutely loves Star Wars and I think he would be happy I get to say that every night and it gets a laugh in it’s context.”
Legends! is on a five month tour having visited Queensland in May, Sydney in June, and visiting Perth and Adelaide in August and Melbourne in September. Says Howard: “It really is a small show with a massive heart at its core.” When nit comes time to say goodbye Howard will miss the show family of course. “… and all of the props, weird but true. I can not tell you how much business and props there are on this little show it’s massive and a shout out to our main man Peter for making the best salmon and caviar boats and mash ever! It truly is prop city! I will miss everything! Our set and show design, it is so beautiful, so big and lavish and NYC penthousey!”
Legends! is a tour de force that should not be missed!
From 28 May – Queensland Performing Arts Centre (Brisbane)
From 18 June – Sydney Royal Theatre
From 2 August – His Majesty’s Theatre (Perth)
From 20 August – Her Majesty’s Theatre (Adelaide)
From 2 September – Melbourne Comedy Theatre