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Grand Dames: Lessons from legendary ladies

When 2015 enters the annals of Los Angeles theatre history, it might well be regarded as the season of the dame.  Certainly, the Ahmanson Theatre owes much of its recent success to a few legendary ladies: Cicely Tyson, Angela Lansbury and Dame Edna. As we round the midpoint of this historic season, let’s take stock of what we’ve learned from these shining talents.

It's the journey, not the destination.

Cicely Tyson had wanted to play Carrie Watts in The Trip to Bountiful ever since catching Geraldine Page’s triumphant turn in the 1985 film. Nearly three decades later, the part finally came to Tyson — on Broadway, in a Lifetime television movie, in a six-week engagement at the Ahmanson Theatre and, finally, in a two-and-a-half week victory lap at Boston’s Cutler Majestic Theatre. Including previews and a 15-day film shoot, Tyson played her dream role well over 250 times.

Though she once saw Carrie Watts as her swan song — in 1985, she said she would retire if she got her Bountiful — Tyson eventually felt reinvigorated by the part. “It’s nothing that I really dreamed would happen at this stage in my life or my career,” she explained to writer David Ng in a feature for the Los Angeles Times. “You know you’re on the wane. But I’m revitalized and I have a whole new career.”

Sharing is caring.

Angela Lansbury has five Tony Awards, six Golden Globes and an honorary Oscar. She invented some of the most iconic roles for women in the musical theatre. She appeared on film with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Charles Boyer and Elizabeth Taylor. Despite these prodigious accomplishments, Lansbury feels it’s her duty to continue sharing her talents with others.

“This is what I understand I am able to do,” she told Los Angeles Times theatre critic Charles McNulty. “And as it is a God-given gift, I must use it or I’m turning my back on something that gives pleasure to others.”

Her generosity even made its mark in the star dressing room of the Ahmanson Theatre. On closing night of Blithe Spirit, she left a lipstick message on the mirror for its next resident (pictured at top). “Darling Dame Edna!” it read. “It’s all yours. Love Madame Arcati.”

If you must say farewell, do so gloriously.

Indeed, the Ahmanson was all Dame Edna’s for six weeks. Throughout her stay, she skewered audience members for their fashion choices, “senior” moments and — for those in the balcony — their status as a “nonentity.” She left in her wake a trail of tears, but mostly because folks laughed so hard.

Before her glorious run, Dame Edna entreated Los Angeles not to miss her farewell appearance at the Ahmanson. Unfortunately, her most devoted possums just can’t help it; they do miss their Australian emissary. After all, the bite of a fresh insult feels surprisingly good in the glare of a bedazzled gown.

What lessons did you learn from these legendary ladies? Tell us in the comments section!

Dame Edna's Glorious Goodbye The Farewell Tour plays at the Ahmanson Theatre until March 15, 2015. Recommended for audiences ages 13+. The Ahmanson Theatre season continues with Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella and Matilda The Musical.
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