By: Paulanne Simmons
September 13, 2022: Ann Talman first met Elizabeth Taylor when she played Taylor’s daughter in the 1981 Broadway revival of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes. The show toured for 18 months, but their friendship lasted until Taylor’s death. What’s more, the glamorous star remained a profound influence on Talman – a mentor, a confident and a warm-hearted surrogate mother.
Talman pays tribute to this friendship at 54 Below in a special encore engagement of “Elizabeth Taylor and the Shadow of Her Smile,” directed by Lina Koutrakos, with musical direction by Alex Rybeck. The show combines song and story to paint an unforgettable portrait of a woman who could be sexy, playful, funny and incredibly generous. And in the end, Talman tells us just as much about herself as she does about Taylor.
According to Talman, her association with Taylor began way before Little Foxes, when as a child, many people, including her own mother, kept telling her how much she looked like Taylor in National Velvet. Years later, after Talman left Pittsburgh for the Big Apple, with a side trip to the Berkshires where she was mentored by Austin Pendleton, when Taylor first met her, she exclaimed, “Oh my God, I feel like I’m looking at myself from National Velvet!”
It didn’t take long before the two became friends off the set, with Taylor advising Talman on how to dress, whom not to marry and how to exit a limo without showing too much.
The show is punctuated with a marvelous array of songs that Talman executes with skill, sincerity and a good deal of humor. Most of the songs are from well-known shows or films, “Once in a Lifetime” from Stop the World I Want to Get Off,” “How to Handle a Woman” form Camelot, “If My Friends Could See Me Now!” from Sweet Charity. Sometimes the songs are from movies Taylor appeared in, like “The Shadow of Your Smile” from The Sandpiper and “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Light Music.
And there are a few surprises. Talman celebrates Taylor’s conversion to Judaism with “Shalom” from Milk and Honey. And she tells us what Taylor thought of diets with Amanda McBroom’s “The Dieter’s Prayer” (Make me believe that tofu’s a food and not something you made up when you were in a bad mood).
By the end of the show, it’s clear Talman admired her friend for her confidence, loved her for her warmth and respected her for her philanthropy (especially for people with AIDS). And we’ve all learned a lot more about Elizabeth Taylor. But, more importantly, we’ve learned a lot more about the value of friendship.
Elizabeth Taylor and the Shadow of Her Smile, at 54 Below, 254 West 54 Street, Sept. 13 and 14 at 7pm.