Audrey Hepburn’s life makes for an evening of cabaret
Iconic actress Audrey Hepburn is only peripherally associated with songs or singing. Yes, she starred in “My Fair Lady” but the vocals were dubbed, and she sang only briefly in a few films such as “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “Funny Face.” So creating a cabaret show — which is all about the song — around the actress might seem a stretch. Hilary Ann Feldman said she feels just the opposite.
A cabaret performer who sometimes delves into the unusual, Feldman had been toying with the idea for years before deciding to give it a shot. The result is “My Fair Audrey,” a show created with collaborator pianist and music arranger Beckie Menzie. It’s filled with familiar songs — “Moon River” and selections from “My Fair Lady” — as well as other disparate tunes used to musically illustrate Hepburn’s life story.
“The challenge was to pay tribute to Audrey without it becoming like a documentary,” Feldman said. “Some of her life story is told but mostly I wanted to pay tribute through music to Audrey the human being, the humanitarian, the wife, the mother, the actress.”
Feldman brought the idea for the show to Menzie who has “a great arranger’s brain.” Menzie was intrigued by the idea and drawn in by Feldman’s enthusiasm for her subject.
“When someone comes to me with a show idea, one of my jobs is to ask questions to find out why they are attracted to the subject matter,” Menzie said. “Hilary became impassioned as she answered my questions and had a genuine affection for the life of Audrey Hepburn including her challenges, as well as her successes.”
Feldman was inspired by Hepburn’s backstory, the moments in the actress’s life that formed the woman she would become. Hepburn dreamed of becoming a prima ballerina but years of hardship and poor nutrition living in Belgium and Holland during World War II dashed that dream. Instead, in London she performed in chorus lines in several West End productions. While filming a small role in a film, she was discovered by the French writer Colette who was visiting the set on the lookout for an actress to star in the London stage adaptation of her novel “Gigi.” Hepburn had no real stage experience but the play was a huge success in London and New York. The notice brought Hepburn her first film, “Roman Holiday,” for which she won an Academy Award. Many more wonderful films would follow as well as a decades-long commitment to UNICEF for which she was named a Goodwill Ambassador.
All of these tangents fascinated Feldman: “Her life took so many strange turns but she just took it in stride and said yes to things. She was very true to herself and worked twice as hard to get where she wanted to be.”
Feldman, who is accompanied by Menzie on piano, uses a variety of songs to fill out the show. These include selections from musicals such as “Godspell,” “Violet” and “Romance/Romance” as well as pop tunes by Natasha Bedingfield and Mary Chapin Carpenter. There also is more dialogue than usual interspersed with the songs.
Feldman said the biggest challenge was the fact there was really nothing bad, none of the usual film star controversies in Hepburn’s life. “When there’s not that sort of dirt, you’re missing out on the juicy, entertaining stuff,” Feldman said with a laugh. “Things can get very dry.”
But Feldman does break through the actress’s regal image and delve into the other side of Hepburn, “the flirtatious and funny woman who smoked, loved her whiskey and understood that there was a lot more to sexy than curves.”
Mary Houlihan is a local freelance writer.