|Barbara Evans as 'Mashanka' in 'The House of Cards'
Yesterday I learned of the death of one of my idols Babara Evans, leading lady par excellence. She was superb, the complete musical comedy leading lady, magnificent ballet dancer, competent singer with an unusual voice, lovely actress and absolutely stunning to look at.
For some reason she never became a household name probably because she was never given a part that really suited her. Performing artists are forever searching for that vehicle that provides the opportunity for the 'performance for posterity'. It may only happen once but it has to happen. For me it was 'Flora' in Britten's TV Production of 'The Turn of the Screw'. I was so lucky. I was a very minor player but the production was so extrordinary and filmed that my 'moment' has become part of Televison and Opera history.
Barbara Evans is not so lucky. She never got the part that "did it" for her.
I first encountered Barbara when I landed my first West End Musical. the ill fated 'House of Cards' produced by the Players Theatre. I think for me this was one of the happiest productions of my life. It was such fun! It had the ingredients of everything being in a London Musical should have expect box office success and I still believe in future it could still have an after life as it is now socially relevant.
But this is a portrait of Barbra Evans and she was its leading lady. She had everything that was required to take London by storm and indeed she did but she was all wrong for the part of an innocent, young sixteen year old virginal, beautiful Russian Countess who was forced to marry a phlanderer.
Barbara was 29 stunningly beautiful, sophisticated, married, a woman of the world. Barbara radiated confidence and class, like Ave Gardener and there was no way that this woman would even would put up with the situation that 'Mashenka', for that was the pretty little countesses name, found herself in. It did not ring true and the audience sensed this immediately.
Barbara's performance was so confidently stunning and assured that the audience failed to empathize with her. It was not that the audience did not like her, no one in their right mind could not like her, it was just that they failed to connect with her. Without this vital audience connection the whole plot failed.
To say I was not captivated by Barbara Evans would be an understatement. I was just 18, very young quite experienced but not used to actually being in a West End Musical. I was just a singer in the chorus alongside Ruth Madoc of 'Hi Di Hi'. Being in a Players production was an honour as they only employed the cream of the crop but I was unaware of this at the time. This musical was my dream come true. I had arrived in the West End. Believe me this is not easy to do.
Barbara Evans was in the 'Fonteyn' mould. Barbara dressed beautifully , not a hair out of place ever. She arrived each day in another stunning coordinated outfit. Her ballet rehearsal costume was dramatic and I copied it the moment I could. It was a white grecian minutely pleated tunic over black tights. It had the 'wow factor and could she dance.
Barbara was a magnificent ballet dancer and her first entrance was a very difficult pas de deux en pointe choreographed by Terry Gilbert followed by quite a difficult song. I used to stand in the wings and marvel at her professionalism and wish I was as talented as her.
She never put a foot wrong. In the last moments the philanderer is exposed as a fraud and Barbara who had by this time fallen in love with him was forced to part. It was terribly sad and we all had our handkerchiefs out at the first time she did this at rehearsal. Real tears! We were so impressed and every night from then on she turned on real tears. What a performance!
Then one night I was standing in the wings watching and I could not believe my eyes. Standing upstage with her back to the audince Barbara took out of her bra a bottle of smelling salts, took a deep breath and her eyes filled with tears! So that was how she did it. When I tried it at home I nearly killed myself!
The House of Cards lasted six weeks at the Phoenix Theare Charing Cross Road. It had mixed reviews and it was before its time. It was about captilaism on the rampage which was not known in 1963.
Barbara Evans landed the prestigious job as resident singer on 'That was The Week That Was" taking over from Millicent Martin but again she never really came over. She appeared 'cold'. Then she was envolved in a car crash and her career came to a sudden end. She deserved better.
I never achieved the manner of a star off stage that Barbara did. Barbara never talked to me or noticed me. I was a chorus girl of no importance but I used to watch her from the wings and when my chance came I tried to be as confident as she was.
Barbara did come to see me once when I was in 'The Desert Song' where I had the privildege of bringing the house down every night with the 'IT' number. Unlike Barbara I did have the facility of making the audience 'like me' and it was really thanks to her that I did. When she arrived in my dressing room I really did not know what to say I was so astonished that my idol had come to visit me. She did not recoginse me as' Madam Vaslilav' from 'House of Cards and was surprised when I knew her. I had to remind her that I was in the chorus.