Sunday, October 14, 2007

Carol Bruce

The actress and singer Carol Bruce died at age 87. She was in one of my favorite cult musicals (Do I Hear a Waltz?) and one of my favorite TV shows (WKRP in Cincinnati), so naturally I think she was great. Her singing/acting career went all the way back to the '30s, and at the age of 22 she got her big break in Irving Berlin's musical Louisiana Purchase, where she played the role that all musical comedies had: the woman who doesn't have any actual role to play in the show but is there because she has a great voice and can belt out some big numbers. (Ethel Merman got her start in parts like that, and Susan Johnson was the undisputed champ when it came to that kind of role.) She had the title song and the inevitable fake-gospel number in act 2, "The Lord Done Fixed Up My Soul." When Oscar Hammerstein assembled a young cast for his 1946 revival of Show Boat, she got the part of Julie, which Helen Morgan had played on Broadway and in the film.

Later on her voice got darker and hoarser and she put it to great use, specializing in playing sophisticated, attractive middle-aged women, like the role of Fioria in Do I Hear a Waltz?

Here is her solo number from Do I Hear a Waltz? (1965), "This Week Americans" (music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim). Playing Fioria, the worldly owner of a Venetian pensione, she welcomes her American visitors by attacking all the other nations; the character despises American provincialism but cynically plays up to it to make her guests happy. (Later in the production she attacks Americans for her latest round of English guests; this reprise isn't included here.)

And here she is on WKRP (the episode where she visits the station and gets drunk) singing "Someone to Watch Over Me":


Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Nice tribute to Carol Bruce, and the clips are gems. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Carol had a keen wit until the end and a full bodied, throaty laugh.