Keith Merrill and Noel And Company!

"Just say the lines and don't trip over the furniture." Noel Coward

Happy Sunday!
Well, another birthday has come and gone! I had a photo shoot yesterday with Eric Stephen Jacobs, soon to be the subject of a blog celebrating his great work.  And a great birthday celebration directed, hosted, and produced by Sue Matsuki. What a great night. Busy day here going through birthday greetings! I received over 1,000! Getting off to a late start today with the blog but am very excited to bring to your attention an event that I am attending on March 5th and I hope you'll join me. “Noël and Company” - a new monthly reading series in association with the Noel Coward Festival at Lincoln Center and based in The Gershwin Hotel’s “Living Room” - will start with Coward’s “Design for Living” on Monday March 5th at 6pm. 
I sat down recently to talk with the artistic director, Keith Merrill, of the newly formed Noel and Company to get a little background on the man behind this series. 

What was the first live show you remember seeing?
I remember ANNIE! But before seeing it - this was in Boston and I barely recall the actual show - they had open calls for the company. 

I went along with my auditioning cousin Terry Lynn and waited in awe as streams of the obnoxiously hopeful tried their luck in the room.
We were later told that Terry was too short for what they needed BUT if I were a girl they'd have loved to have me in.
I think it was then that a certain bug was planted - and whoever that casting director was I take my hat off to him and his keen eye for raw, very raw talent! Ha!

Were you exposed to the arts growing up?
NOT AT ALL. My family had very little interest. My only exposure was to pop music and it was as the next Whitney Houston that I hoped to grow into. Minus the cleavage.
However, being a fat kid all my life that was always a concern too.(This blog interview took place last week. My thoughts and prayers go out to Ms. Houston's family, friends, and fans at this time)

First professional job? was as an understudy for John Proctor in the UK National Tour of
THE CRUCIBLE! I'd waited two years after graduation for my work permit - long story - and I was thrilled. What a time. A famous chap called Gareth Thomas was Governor Danforth. A big booming actor known for his role as Blake in Blake's Seven on British television. I could not have been more excited. I went on once with 45 minutes notice. I was prepared and calm as a cucumber. Gareth came up to me and attempted to ease my mind. I gripped his shoulder, looked him in the eye and said, "Mr. Thomas, you have nothing to worry about today." Ha! And he didn't! I, apart from one short line in the trial scene which Gareth covered for majestically, was word perfect. After the curtain fell, Gareth said, "That was electrifying.", not only did I never go on again but the reigning Proctor's performance became strikingly familiar AND he insisted on having my wig. I chose to see the compliment in the audacity. :)

Your thoughts on Arts in Education:
It is where we need to begin again. Our generations are lost to technology and the MTV age. I think we need to accept that - we have lost them at base level and that is the fault of our government and it's blatant attack on the Arts. Our only hope for a healthy, culturally vibrant future is to begin at the beginning and give our kids a whole, extensive and rich training in the Arts - literature, music, visual arts, classical dance etc. It is the most vital tool in creating well rounded, sensitive and intellectually stimulated/ing individuals - who better to learn from than those most consummate artists who put into words, movement, music and onto canvas the beauty, truth and depth of the human condition?
I wonder which of our present day politicians have experienced a well taught arts curriculum in their youth?

“Las Vegas: It was not cafe society, it was Nescafe society.”
― Noel Coward
Have you ever felt like you were born in the wrong era? What other period of time do you relate to and why?
  Every day of my life. Ha! I think that is one of the main reasons I have put together Noel and Company - to share my passion for the eras and the kind of works that most stir my soul and around which I feel most at home. I think I was brutally robbed of my opportunity to float down a tropical river at sunset with Noel Coward and Graham Payn, sipping something sweet out of a half coconut, and being so content in each other's company that talking was unnecessary.
Your thoughts on Carol Channing (All my blogs focus on Carol Channing’s Foundation For The Arts) I’m campaigning for Carol Channing to receive the 2012 Kennedy Center Honor in 2012. If you agree that she should receive this honor, can you say why you think this should happen
Of course she should receive this honor! WHY ARE WE HAVING THIS CONVERSATION?! Seriously though, there is no doubt in the matter and it's a scandal that she hasn't already received it. A more professional, dedicated, tireless actor and activist there never was and deserves to be recognized for her worthy efforts.
I'm most impressed with her strides in Arts education - if only more stars like Carol would take that responsibility and help 'teach' our government what our education system is deficient in, we should be so much further along than we are. We need voices like hers - granted
none will be so well heard! - but we all of us need to chime in - for Art's sake!
Most recent appearance:
Preventing further bloodshed as Doctor Seward in Dracula at Alabama Shakespeare Festival.

Next appearance:
As Otto in Design For Living with the Elegant, Exciting New Noel and Company reading series!!

What is your biggest success in Show Business?
I think as Tom in The Glass Menagerie with Honor Blackman in the UK.
Williams and Miller are the two US playwrights who most speak to me and whose words feel the best in my body. It's such a personal thing for an actor - which writer fits their particular sensibilities.

What was your lowest low and how did you surpass that?
Keith Merrill
Didn't you say "Make it Fun."??
I had a hurtful agent for a few years here, from whom I just didn't have the balls to walk away. I allowed this man to make me question everything about myself (and coming from the UK to NY, I was a very together and confident person) - not my talent was he destructively critical of but everything else, from my hair to my accent to the way I carried myself. Now, I welcome criticism but one doesn't have to be a pratt about it! Ha! And I reckon that at that time in my life I was unprepared for the onslaught and took it too personally - when it was probably more about his deficiencies than my own. But in the end I found that I didn't know who I was anymore and it took a very long time to get me back. I grew from it though and realized that what I need more than anything from my life is to be the 'man behind the curtain.' 

What one change would you like to see in today’s industry?
Fewer so called "theatre schools" and higher intake standards. We need to emulate the classical music and dance institutions who require a bit more than an interesting look and charisma to 'get in'. In the UK there is a casting book called the Spotlight. In the 50's it was one book about two inches thick. Today there are around 8 books at around 4" each. That's just the UK.
Our cup spilleth over - and not with talent.

How do you deal with receiving invitations from friends/colleagues to events that are either too many or too costly to attend?
With diplomatic genius.

Are you happy at the point you are right now in your career?
I'm happy. It's content that I'm not. And I wonder if I ever should be. Isn't that, in part, what keeps us passionate? That restlessness?

Do you feel you have achieved what you set out to do?
Am I the next Whitney Houston? Sadly, no. But I am the actor I'd hoped I'd be and coming into the man I wanted to be as well.

What do you do to remain positive when life's hiccups get you down?
Create. If no-one will hire you to do it, do it yourself. The moment you stop
creating, you're dead in the water. 
How on earth do you reach theatregoers now that newspapers are obsolete and there are so many channels on TV you can’t pick the right ones to advertise on and with the web being so hit and miss?
We are in an interesting if not infuriating age where we must constantly be thinking outside the box and finding new avenues of getting attention - the trouble is that everyone wants attention these days! Perhaps if we cross our fingers really tightly.

A genie pops out of the lamp, he grants you three wishes. What are those wishes?
World peace, Responsible/fully educated religious practices and a tailoredGucci wardrobe. (You know, for auditions and business meetings. C'mon, it's a purely business related wish.
Stop judging me... Fine, more world peace then.)

If you could travel anywhere in the world and spend some time there, where would you choose, and what would you do?
I would love to ask the genie for one more wish and magically know Italian - I would swiftly move to Venice for a year or two, open an Italian/American Theatre Company while making a long-term friend of the carbohydrate.

What would you ask God if you could right now?
How was your holiday?
(Too controversial, huh?)

What is the last stage show you saw, local or professional?
Warhorse. It was impressive. But The Norman Conquests was where it was at.

If you could change places with anyone in the world for 24 hours, who would that be and why?
Stephen Sondheim - I just want to know what it's like to wear genius!
What do you see for the future of Cabaret?
Cabaret will always have a future. It has to - we cannot allow the likes of Julie Wilson to be forgotten. That torch must be carried. The same goes for the theatre industry - it's all about standards and consistency. The audience should want to come back and the ticket to that performance should always be worth the price. It's up to us to keep them coming.

What can we do to get your type of entertainment to new audiences?
It's up to us to deliver the first rate product that I'm promising. Then once that word of mouth is established it's all about marketing and constant promotional strategy - we're fighting for our livelihoods! I think one of the best resources are fabulous blogs like this - keeping our name on the tongue, in the mind and on the screen.

 Noël Coward’s
Presented by Noël and Company
Amy Rutberg

 The show will begin with a pre-show performance by “Prince of New York Cabaret” Steve Ross.
Kevin Collins
Hailed as “Coward’s cleverest play” by The New York Times, “Design For Living” follows the love triangle of Otto, Gilda and Leo - the sexy conflict between two men who love the same woman (and each other). Gilda searches in vain for the answer to an age old question — why is love so dreadfully untidy? In Coward’s own summation - “The actual facts are so simple. I love you. You love me. You love Otto. I love Otto. Otto loves you. Otto loves me...Start to unravel from there!”

The play was originally produced in 1933 starring Noël Coward and the Lunts. The free-loving trio at the Gershwin Hotel will be Amy Rutberg (Charles Busch’s “The Divine Sister”), Kevin Collins (Irish Rep’s “Dancing at Lughnasa”), and Keith Merrill (“Camelot” with Robert Goulet). The cast will also include Mary Ellen Ashley (Broadway’s “Annie Get Your Gun”, “Yentl”), Anthony Newfield (of the most recent Broadway revival of “Waiting for Godot”) and Seth Duerr (The Publick’s “Macbeth”). Erin Hill will provide musical accompaniment on the harp.

The “Noël and Company” series was created by artistic director Keith Merrill and producing director Mary Ellen Ashley (As producer: Broadway’s Godspell, Angels in America, Christmas Story, High Rollers)

The series will celebrate the work of Noël Coward along with the best of UK theatre over the last century and today. “We aim to provide our audience with un-compromising acting standards and a commitment of excellence to our playwrights - who will include John Osborne, Joe Orton, Terrence Rattigan, Martin McDonagh, Alan Bennett, Harold Pinter, J.M. Barrie and Alan Ayckbourn,” Merrill said.
“In addition to this mission, we will strive to visit various arts schools and universities, performing selected readings/productions, fostering the passions of tomorrow’s theatre community and in our own small way further ensuring the future’s desire for the writers who have so eloquently penned the human condition and enriched our lives,” the artistic director added.
Tickets are $15 and will be available at the ‘Living Room’ door. Steve Ross’s pre-show performance will begin at 5:30pm.
The Gershwin Hotel is located at 7 East 27th Street, NYC.
For more information visit or email


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DVD Extra: Christmas with Noel Coward and Clifton Webb: "It must be tough to be orphaned at 71,'' playwright-actor-songwriter Noel Coward famously said of his friend Clifton Webb -- who starred in Coward's "Blithe Spirit'' and "Present Laughter'' on stage -- after the death of Webb's beloved mother and living companion in 1960. "Poor Clifton,'' Coward wrote in a letter, "is still, after two months, wailing and sobbing over Mabelle's death. As she was well over ninety, gaga, and driving him mad for years, this seems excessive and over indulgent.''

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Richard Skipper,

This Blog is dedicated to Whitney Houston and the gifts she gave to the world


  1. Will you look at that pic of Elizabeth, Liza, Michael, & Whitney...& Liza the only one still kickin.


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