High Spirits (musical)

High Spirits

Original Cast Recording
Music Hugh Martin
Timothy Gray
Lyrics Hugh Martin
Timothy Gray
Book Hugh Martin
Timothy Gray
Basis Blithe Spirit
by Noël Coward
Productions 1964 Broadway
1964 West End

High Spirits is a musical with a book, lyrics, and music by Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray, based on the play Blithe Spirit by Noël Coward, about a man's problems caused by the spirit of his dead wife.

Martin and Gray adhered closely to Coward's original text, although they expanded the medium's character to make it the star role. The playwright was delighted with their adaptation, then entitled Faster Than Sound, and agreed to direct it himself.


Originally, Coward had mentally cast Keith Michell as Charles, Gwen Verdon as Elvira, Celeste Holm as Ruth, and Kay Thompson as Madame Arcati, with Bob Fosse as director. Coward's dream cast failed to materialize, but he continued with the project.[1]

The musical opened on Broadway at the Alvin Theatre on April 7, 1964, and closed on February 27, 1965, after 375 performances and fourteen previews. Gower Champion aided Coward in directing the musical.[2] The cast featured Edward Woodward as Charles, Tammy Grimes as Elvira, Louise Troy as Ruth, Beatrice Lillie as Madame Arcati and Carol Arthur as Edith. Christopher Walken, billed as "Ronnie Walken" was in the chorus. Fred Werner was Music Director, scenic and costumes design were by Robert Fletcher, lighting design was by Jules Fisher and Tammy Grimes costume was by Valentina. The production was nominated for eight Tony Awards but did not win any. Other major musical nominees that same year (1964) were Funny Girl and Hello, Dolly! and most major Tony wins went to the latter.

An original cast recording of the Broadway cast was released on the ABC Paramount label and the subsequent CD by MCA. [3]

Coward also directed the West End production, which opened in November 1964 at the Savoy Theatre, where it ran for 93 performances. The cast included Denis Quilley as Charles, Marti Stevens as Elvira, Jan Waters as Ruth, and Cicely Courtneidge as Madame Arcati.[4] A London cast album was released by Pye Records, for whom Coward himself also recorded four numbers from the show: "Something Tells Me", "If I Gave You", "Forever and a Day", and "Home Sweet Heaven".[5]In 1964, Courtneidge accepted the role of Madame Arcati in the London production of High Spirits. This was an unhappy episode in her career. Coward himself co-directed, and the two clashed constantly in rehearsal. Courtneidge later said, "Everyone does adore him – me included – but he's hell to work with, and I never want to do anything else with him. I'd have to be starving, I really would."[6] After the opening night, Coward wrote in his diary, "Cis also got some well-deserved cracks for vulgarizing Madame Arcati, and serve her bloody well right."[7] The notices for the piece were dreadful, and those for Courtneidge's performance scarcely better: The Guardian wrote of "a woeful excess of underplay",[8] and The Observer commented, "The sight of Cicely Courtneidge hamming it until she drops in purple harem knickers with diamanté cycle clips isn't honestly hilarious enough to carry the evening."[9]

42nd Street Moon in San Francisco, California presented a staged concert version of the musical in March and April 2009.[10]


Writer Charles Condomine hosts a séance conducted by medium Madame Arcati in the hope that he'll learn her tricks so he can use the information in his new novel. His assumption that she is a fake is proven wrong when she falls into a trance and unwittingly conjures the spirit of his late wife Elvira, although he alone can see her. His present wife Ruth believes that Charles is joking until Elvira moves into the Condomine household and proves her presence by performing poltergeist-type pranks. Elvira's plan to kill Charles so he can join her in the beyond backfires when she accidentally disposes of Ruth instead, and before long the two female apparitions are disrupting their former husband's life with their constant nagging and bickering.

Song list

Act I
  • Was She Prettier Than I? - Ruth
  • The Bicycle Song - Arcati and ensemble
  • You'd Better Love Me - Elvira
  • Where Is the Girl I Married? - Charles and Ruth
  • The Sandwich Man - Instrumental
  • Go Into Your Trance - Arcati and Beatniks
  • Where Is the Man I Married? (Reprise)- Charles and Ruth
  • Forever and a Day - Charles
  • Something Tells Me - Elvira
  • I Know Your Heart - Elvira and Charles
  • Faster Than Sound - Elvira and Ensemnble

Act II
  • If I Gave You - Ruth and Charles
  • Talking to You - Arcati
  • Home Sweet Heaven - Elvira
  • Something Is Coming to Tea - Arcati and Beatniks
  • The Exorcism - Instrumental
  • What In the World Did You Want? - Charles, Ruth and Elvira
  • Faster Than Sound (Reprise) - the company

Awards and nominations

Original Broadway production

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1964 Tony Award Best Musical Nominated
Best Author Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray Nominated
Best Composer and Lyricist Nominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Beatrice Lillie Nominated
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Louise Troy Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical Noël Coward Nominated
Best Choreography Danny Daniels Nominated
Best Conductor and Musical Director Fred Werner Nominated


  1. Payn, p. 174
  2. Payn, p. 174 and Mordden, p. 39.
  3. "High Spirits - Original Broadway Cast", Castalbums.org
  4. "London production", musical-theatre.net
  5. Reissued on LP on DRG SL 5180 in 1978
  6. Castle, p. 247
  7. Coward, p. 579
  8. Nightingale, Benedict. "High Spirits", The Guardian, 21 October 1964, p. 9
  9. Gilliatt, Penelope. "Back to the big stuff", The Observer, 8 November 1964, p. 25
  10. "2008-09 Season", 42ndstmoon.com


External links

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