Elsa Lanchester Tonight!
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“There is no such thing as a person that nothing has happened to, and each person’s story is as different as his fingertips.”—Elsa Lanchester
Charlotte Booker has been fascinated with Elsa Lanchester since childhood. When she read ELSA LANCHESTER HERSELF, the 1983 autobiography, she realized there was SO much more to Elsa than the Bride of Frankenstein and Katie Nana from Mary Poppins. Charlotte imagined someday playing the iconic character actress—warts and all.
How does a character actress become a leading lady? Elsa Lanchester solved that problem decades ago by creating a one-woman show called ELSA LANCHESTER HERSELF, and played herself to great acclaim in theatres, nightclubs, and cabarets all over the United States and Canada, for decades. Following Elsa’s example, Charlotte Booker wrote and performs in a new solo show, playing Elsa, herself. This play (with music) covers the eccentric Oscar-nominated actress’s fascinating life, roles, and her 30-year marriage to Charles Laughton.
A LOT of things happened to Elsa Lanchester, and she loved to talk and sing about them. Charlotte Booker channels Elsa in ELSA LANCHESTER TONIGHT!, a new solo play. Mark Nutter accompanies on the piano.
A veteran of regional theatre, she originated roles in the world premieres of the musicals QUILTERS (Denver Center, Edinburgh and Dublin Festivals) and THREE SONGS (Fremont Center, L.A.); as well as the plays VILLA AMERICA (Williamstown Theatre Festival), FRANKENSTEIN (St. Louis Rep), and DUSTY AND THE BIG BAD WORLD (Denver Center). She appeared in the American premieres of VISITORS (Martha's Vineyard Playhouse), MAN OF THE MOMENT (Cleveland Playhouse), THINGS WE DO FOR LOVE (Old Globe), and CLOUDS (Philadelphia Drama Guild). She has played leading roles at the Long Wharf, Yale Rep, Hartford Stage, the Alley Theatre, Baltimore Center Stage, and the Paper Mill, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Cincinnati Playhouses, among many others, and garnered rave reviews as Ann Landers in David Rambo's solo play THE LADY WITH ALL THE ANSWERS at Capital Rep, Hartford Theaterworks, and Riverside Theatre in Florida.
Elsa Sullivan Lanchester was born to Socialist, suffragist, atheist, pacifist, vegetarian parents in London, England, on October 28, 1902. Her mother, Edith Lanchester, was briefly institutionalized by her wealthy family for refusing to marry Elsa’s father, Shamus Sullivan, a factory worker. The reason for Edith’s confinement? “Overeducation”! At the age of eleven, Elsa was chosen to study with Isadora Duncan in Paris. As WW1 approached, she returned to London and began teaching her own dance classes. She co-founded the Cave of Harmony, a Bohemian nightclub where she performed avant-garde one acts and parodied old music hall songs, while she was still a teen. Some of her fans included James Whale (the future director of “Bride of Frankenstein”), Evelyn Waugh, Tallulah Bankhead, John Gielgud, and HG Wells. Wells wrote three silent films for Elsa, who was hailed “the female Charlie Chaplin”. She was sculpted and painted by many artists of the time, celebrated in poetry, magazines, and gossip columns, and was soon cast in a play opposite the up-and-coming young actor, Charles Laughton. They fell in love, set up housekeeping in 1927, and married in 1929. Two years later, Laughton confessed to her that he preferred men—but they stayed married. Around that time, Hollywood beckoned for Laughton, but didn’t know what to do with Elsa. They appeared in several films together: THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY THE EIGHTH; REMBRANDT; THE BEACHCOMBER; TALES OF MANHATTAN; THE BIG CLOCK; and WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION, for which they were both nominated for Academy Awards.
Never a fan of film acting, Elsa set out on her own, recreating her early Cave of Harmony song stylings and touring the United States, Canada, and England. She became wildly popular at the Turnabout Theatre in Hollywood, where she performed with the famed Yale Puppeteers for over ten years. After Charles Laughton’s death, she continued to appear in films and in cabarets, and wrote a vivid autobiography, ELSA LANCHESTER HERSELF. She died in 1986.