Alexandra Silber's 9 Favorite Angela Lansbury Videos
The ultimate Dame Angela superfan shares her memories and best-loved performances.
I have many personal and artistic role models but Angela Lansbury remains, and shall always remain, without exception, my only true idol.
The truth is: not only her career, but her life itself is of profoundest meaning, inspiration, and influence.
I first came across her on screen as Princess Gwendolyn in the 1955 classic The Court Jester. I did reports on her, devoured her early cinema work, delighted in watching her host the Tonys, I wrote her quotes about life and acting in my journals and, perhaps most importantly, created The Angela Lansbury Power Playlist for any and all occasions. I love that she was a woman, citizen, wife, and mother who was also an accomplished artist.
"The theater is magical and addictive," she said. She was willing to attempt any role, to transform herself in any manner for the sake of storytelling. She was fearless. She reinvented herself over and over again as an artist and as a woman, and stood like a beacon of hope for those of us who sometimes worry that our best time is behind us. She just kept going.
Here is a list of my favorite Angela Lansbury performances, all available on YouTube. (You want to dive deeper and find everything else? Be our guest, pardon the expression…)
1. "The Worst Pies in London" – Sweeney Todd
In March 1979, Lansbury first appeared as Nellie Lovett in the Hal Prince production of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, alongside Len Cariou as the murderous title character. After being offered the role, she jumped on the opportunity due to the involvement of Sondheim in the project; she commented that she loved "the extraordinary wit and intelligence of his lyrics."
She remained in the role for 14 months on Broadway before hitting the road across the US in a 10-month tour. It not only earned Lansbury her fourth Tony Award but also the Ruby Award for Broadway Performer of the Year.
This is the song that sets up every nuanced aspect of the show, including the problem that becomes the solution, the sense of humor, the up-tempo music, and absolute unique black comedy. There have been so many reinterpretations, and I have love for many of them, but to me, this is still the best.
2. "How'd You Like to Spoon With Me?" – Till The Clouds Roll By
Dame Angela! At 20 years old! Jerome Kern biopic! Costumes! Swings! (And as a bonus, here she is, reviving the English dance hall delight 41 years later on Murder She Wrote).
3. "A Little Priest" — Sweeney Todd
"A Little Priest" is my favorite song by Stephen Sondheim. It's insane, of course. But so is the story. It arrives at the end of the first act just as we are starting to truly fall in love with these anti-heroes, and we allow them to take us down this preposterous path because it fizzes with wit, puns, parody, and a lampooning of social norms. The audience is released into intermission positively guffawing about cannibalism.
Here Dame Angela is with original Sweeney Todd Len Cariou at Stephen Sondheim's 75th birthday celebration. Dame Angela is nearly 80 years old in this clip, and they have incredible chemistry.
4. "Substitutiary Locomotion" — Bedknobs and Broomsticks
1970 was a traumatic year for Lansbury and family, as her husband, Peter Shaw, underwent a hip replacement; their son, Anthony, suffered a heroin overdose and entered a coma; and the family's Malibu home was destroyed in a brush fire. They respond to all of it by purchasing a home in rural Ireland, and helped Anthony recover from his addiction.
The same year, she appeared as the middle-aged English witch Eglantine Price in the Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks. This was her first lead in a screen musical, and she later noted that as a big commercial hit, this film "secured an enormous audience for me."" The songs, written by the great Sherman Brothers, who had enjoyed so many hits with Disney screen musicals, wrote the score.
In this scene, Eglantine secures the magical words to make ordinary objects come to life, and presto— movie musical magic is made!
5. "Beauty and the Beast" While Angela Lansbury is famous for singing the "Beauty and the Beast" ballad, she originally felt the demo recording sent to her by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken had a lovely message but wasn't really the style she was used to. She suggested perhaps another actor sing the song, who she felt would be more suited.
But the team insisted that she make the song her own— they wanted a true musical theater ballad for the ages. Lansbury went into the booth and sang it in one take. For the 25th anniversary screening of the film at Lincoln Center, a then-91-year-old Dame Angela shocked crowds as she returned to the stage to join composer Alan Menken at the piano in a performance for the ages. Once again proving that it is never too late for anything.
6. "I Don't Want to Know" — Dear World
Lansbury followed the success of Mame with her performance as Countess Aurelia, the 75-year-old Parisian eccentric in Dear World. The show opened in February 1969 to lukewarm reviews, and though Lansbury found it a "pretty depressing" experience, reviews of her performance were overwhelmingly positive, and she was awarded her second Tony Award.
"I Don't Want to Know" is my favorite song from the score, and I find the final lyrics particularly moving as we reflect upon Dame Angela's life and legacy.
This clip is an excerpt from the February 9 episode of the Julie Andrews Show, in which she was a guest (alongside Steve Lawrence and Rich Little). Lansbury talk about Dear World, and then, sitting in her armchair, performs the song to the delight of all.
7. Bosom Buddies — Mame
In 1987, Angela Lansbury hosted the Tony Awards. She and Bea Arthur (her real-life BFF and former Mame co-star) revisited their number "Bosom Buddies" from on the broadcast and the entire viewing audience melted from a jolt of serotonin so intense I'm sure people didn't sleep for days.
8. "Send in the Clowns" — A Little Night Music
In 1993, Stephen Sondheim was awarded the Kennedy Center Honor and of course, Lansbury was asked to participate. There isn't anything more simultaneously joyous and terrifying than to perform a masterpiece for the composer himself, but here you can see Sondheim's deep appreciation for Dame Angela's mastery in real time.
I like to think they're all around a piano now. Lucky angels.
9. "Rose's Turn" — Gypsy
In May 1973, Angela returned to the West End to play the character of Rose in the musical 'Gypsy''. She had initially turned down the role, not wishing to be in the shadow of Ethel Merman. Opening night, she earned a standing ovation and rave reviews.
In 1974, she toured the show across America and it eventually reached Broadway, earning Lansbury her third Tony Award.
Here is a snippet of what appears to be B-roll of her take on "Rose's Turn." Haunting. Thrilling.