She is best known as a television actress. Creator of the hopelessly snobbish Hyacinth Bucket in the sit-com Keeping up Appearances and the doggedly determined lady sleuth in Hetty Wainthropp Investigates.
Those with slightly longer memories perhaps remember Patricia Routledge for her wonderful and moving performance in Alan Bennett’s A Woman of No Importance. Yet there’s a whole other side to Patricia Routledge’s showbusiness career that comes as a surprise to even some of her greatest fans – her days as a star of musical theatre.
From Richard Rodgers to Leonard Bernstein, Patricia Routledge has worked with them all. She has won a Tony Award on Broadway and an Olivier in the West End. Rodgers wanted to write a musical specially for her and Noel Coward made a point of going to watch her perform his work on the London stage.
Her show Facing the Music: A Life In Musical Theatre, which plays the theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds tonight (January 26) , finds this astonishing 82-year-old actress and singer discussing those heady days in conversation with leading music critic Edward Seckerson.
Exploring what Seckerson calls “One of the best kept secret in showbusiness,” the evening offers a wealth of remarkable anecdotes and many vintage recordings that lift the lid on her glorious career on the musical stage.
It is a story of triumphs, extraordinary encounters and gilded disasters – even her appearance in the notorious 1970s Broadway flop 1600 Pensylvania Avenue found Patricia delivering some of her finest work.
Despite her sterling efforts the production was sunk by the combined genius of its architects, Leonard Bernstein and Alan Jay Lerner, who created a lumbering ego-fest that was monstered by the all-powerful New York critics and closed after just five days and seven performances. Happily Patricia’s career survived untainted and she went on to ever greater successes.
Not bad for someone who when she left school to read English at University planned to become a teacher. Her abiding ambition she says was “to be a headmistress by 40 with a red sports car and romances all over Europe in the holidays.”
Instead by 40 she was the toast of New York and clutching a Tony for her performance in the Broadway musical Darling of the Day.
Facing the Music: A Life In Musical Theatre is at the Theatre Royal,
Westgate Street, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk IP33 1QR.
More information at www.theatreroyal.org/