Theatre

Theatre publicity shot - date unknown
Noel Harrison began his acting career aged 17 with the Ipswich Arts Repertory Theatre Group. His first appearance was as a sedan chair bearer in School for Scandal in 1951.

During a long and varied acting career, he appeared in a large number of plays, ranging from comedies to musicals and dramas.
 
The majority of his performances were in America where he spent many years through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s touring the country's theatres.
 
Notably, he played the character Henry Higgins in 18 productions of My Fair Lady - the part made famous by his father, Rex Harrison.
 
Noel also played the character of Arthur in 15 productions of the musical Camelot and many other notable roles, including Arthur Kipps in Half a Sixpence, Sgt Trotter in The Mousetrap, Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music and Don Quixote in Man of la Mancha.
 
He also directed several productions and wrote and performed in his own award-winning one man show, Adieu Jacques.
 

 
Theatrical biography
 
Printed below is Noel Harrison's biography as featured in the programme for the 1968 production of Joe Egg in Los Angeles.
 
 
 
NOEL HARRISON became a star and an idol of American youth through his portrayal of secret agent Mark Slate on the NBC-TV series, The Girl From UNCLE.
    He began as a performer at the age of 17 in Ipswich, England in classical repertory.
While working as an actor he also sang in small clubs and coffee houses, and soon found himself travelling throughout Europe as a cafe entertainer.
In the process he learned to speak, act and sing in four languages.
    Since those early days he has appeared in important and diversified roles on the English stage and has also made five motion pictures.
    On this side of the Atlantic Mr Harrison has performed in many major night clubs, most recently headlining at the Persion Room of the Plaza Hotel in New York.
    He will be all over the dials this fall on such TV shows as The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show, the Jerry Lewis Show, Guide to the Swinging Bachelor, Hollywood Palace and others.
    During the past summer he appeared in stock in Half a Sixpence and also re-created the now famous Ray Bolger role in Where's Charley? on the Kenley Circuit. He has also implemented his acting career by recording four LP albums, the latest of which is the Reprise album, "The Great Electrical Experiment Is Over." It includes four of his own compositions.
    The son of Rex Harrison, he is the first to admit that being the offspring of a famous star can have its drawbacks; however, making it on his own has dispelled any hang-up he might have had at one time.
He won the PHOTO-PLAY award for the most promising newcomer for his role in The Girl From UNCLE.
He is married to Canadian-born, former London fashion model Sara Eberts.
The Harrisons have four children, Zoe, Cathryn, Simon and Harriet. Also having an outdoor menagerie that includes two horses, a pair of polo ponies, five dogs, one monkey, 15 chickens, two Siamese cats and a mynah bird, they are currently looking for larger quarters.
 

 
With actress Christine Ebersole in My Fair Lady - 1984
My Fair Lady
 
One of Noel's most popular roles was Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady - the part made famous by his father, Rex Harrison.

Talking to the Los Angeles Time in 1989 about his decision to take on the part, he said: "At the time, I had no work, I'd just had these new kids - twins - and they offered me a lot of money to do it.

"I thought, 'How can I turn it down?' I called my father and told him they'd offered me this job. He said, 'Why not? Everyone else is doing it.'"

Noel first played the character in Boston in 1974. He went on to play the part in 18 productions across America.

He is pictured here in a 1984 production with actress Christine Ebersole.

Watch the video below to see Noel discuss his performances in My Fair Lady with KXAS-TV in Fort Worth on July 22, 1985.




 

Camelot

Of all the plays Noel appeared in, his favourite was the  musical Camelot.

His portrayal of King Arthur in 15 productions of the show also won praise in a number of reviews.

Commenting in the Pittsburg Post Gazette in 1979, George Anderson described Camelot as a "freshly thought, sincerely felt show" and said Noel made a "touching Arthur, simple, decent and unpretentious."

Noel's wider career also featured the King Arthur story on a number of other occasions. In 1991 he provided the voice for a character in a cartoon version of the story and in 1961 he made a record for children based on the story.

In the video clip below, Noel discusses his love for Camelot ahead of a performance in Fort Worth in 1986.

 

 

 

 






Half a Sixpence
 
In 1967, Noel played the character Arthur Kipps in the musical Half a Sixpence.
 
The show was performed at the Packard Music Hall Theatre in Warren, Ohio, the Veterans Memorial Theatre in Columbus and the Memorial Hall in Dayton, Ohio

The show had been made famous in the UK by Tommy Steele, who also appeared in the film, which was also released in 1967.
 
In later performances of the play, Noel starred alongside former Miss America, Mary Ann Mobley. She was the original choice for the starring role in the Girl from UNCLE, a part later taken on by Stefanie Powers.
 

 



Where's Charley?

Noel played the lead character Charley Wykeham  in a 1968 production of  George Abbott and Brandon Thomas's musical, Where's Charley?

It was performed at the Packard Music Hall Theatre in Warren, Ohio, the Veterans Memorial Theatre in Columbus and the Memorial Hall in Dayton, Ohio.

The musical dates back to 1948. It was made into a film in 1952.

 









Walking Happy

In the musical Walking Happy, Noel played the part of Will Mossop, a role originally played by British comedian Norman Wisdom.

The play is set in 1880s Britain and focuses on the life of Will Mossop, a young shoemaker.

Noel appeared in the musical in 1969 with actress Linda Lavin, who starred in the American sitcom Alice for nine years.

They performed the show at the Packard Music Hall Theatre in Warren, the Veterans Memorial Theatre in Columbus and Memorial Hall in Dayton, Ohio

The two can be seen in the video clip below discussing Walking Happy.


 






Blithe Spirit

Noel received good reviews for his performance as Charles Condomine in the Noel Coward play Blithe Spirit in 1970.

In his review, theatre critic Bob Nauta said: "Noel Harrison handles the role of Charles with the ease of one born to the theatre. He has the ability and that certain knack to put over a part and his performance as Charles comes on very strong.". 

Other reviewers also commended Noel for his "urbane and debonair" performance.

The part of Charles was played by Noel's father, Rex Harrison in the 1945 film of Blithe Spirit.





Joe Egg

Noel appeared several times in the play Joe Egg, which tells the story off a couple struggling to save their marriage while they raise their young daughter, who has cerebral palsy.

Reactions to the play were broadly positive, with Ralph Hicklin of the Toronto Telegram calling it "compassionate, often beautiful and vastly clever" while Hebert Wittaker of the Canadian Globe and Mail newspaper said it was a well-acted and exciting piece of theatre. 
 

The play has been turned into a feature film twice, first in 1972, starring Alan Bates, than again in 2002, starring Eddie Izzard.


 







She Loves Me

In 1975, Noel played Steven Kodaly in Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock's musical, She Loves Me.

The piece was performed at the Packard Music Hall Theatre in Warren, Ohio, the Veterans Memorial Theatre in Columbus and the Memorial Hall in Dayton, Ohio.

The plot revolves around two shop employees who, despite being consistently at odds with each other, are unaware that they are secret pen pals.

The story was remade as the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan film, You've Got Mail in 1998.

 







Noises Off

Noel's portrayal of theatre director Lloyd Dallas in the comedy Noises Off, was described as "excellent" by the Chicago Tribune.

Reviewing the play, the Tribune's entertainment writer, Sid Smith, said: "It`s about as engaging and unforgettable as comedy can get, a goofily funny bit of nonsense that every now and then touches on a poignant kind of poetry."

Noel toured the show in America during 1985 and 1986.

The play was turned into a film in 1992, with Michael Cain playing the part Noel had performed on stage.

Watch the video below to see Noel discussing his performance in Noises Off with KXAS-TV/NBC in Fort Worth, Texas on November 5, 1985







Man of la Mancha

Noel received positive reviews for his portrayal of Don Quixote and Cervantes in the musical Man of la Mancha in 1992.

The Los Angeles Times said: "having recently performed Jacques Brel songs in intimate venues, Harrison has brought some of Brel's dramatically harsh, gutsy edge to La Mancha' Though he rushes through "The Impossible Dream," (musical director Irv Kimber keeps his good orchestra steady throughout), Harrison lends much of the material a human desperation that climaxes in the deathbed scene.













Adieu Jacques

Certainly the stage play which Noel was most personally committed to must have been Adieu Jacques, a reflection on the life of Belgian song writer Jacques Brel, which Noel wrote and performed himself.

The piece was first performed in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1987, then in Los Angeles in 1990 and 1993, where it won awards on both occasions. In London it ran for six weeks and received high praise from The International Herald Tribune and The Times

Writing in the LA Weekly, Tom Provenzano said: "British actor-singer Noel Harrison has been re-tooling and touring this splendid tribute to Brel. Harrison plays guitar and sings in a beautifully rough voice as he introduces us to the artist. leaving us with an enduring understanding of the late singer's emotional depth."

Curtain Up also described Adie Jacque as a "beautiful, moving piece".

Discussing the creation of the play in 1987, Noel said: I was thinking,'I'm really fed up with waiting for my agent to phone me. I must get something organised so that I can have a bit more control over my life and career, so why don't I do a one-man show?'. 'Brel came to mind because I had seen Brel sing and I'd also translated a song of Brel's, 'Marieke' in 1965."

Noel wrote the piece with help from director, producer and writer Roy Rogosin. He released an album of music from the play in 2002.

Below is a short interview where Noel discusses the play and a complete recording of a performance in Kansas.







Other performances


Noel also appeared in the following plays:

The Sound of Music - as Captain von Trapp

No Sex Please, We're British - as Brian Runicles 

The Mousetrap - as Sgt. Trotter

As You Like It - as Jacques

Poor Richard - as Richard

Sullivan and Gilbert - as Sir Arthur Sullivan

Under the Yum Yum Tree - as Hogan

Iolanthe - as the  Lord Chancellor

Pirates of Penzance - as the Major General

Sleuth

The Housekeeper





As director

Noel also directed versions of the following plays:

The Mousetrap

A Yard of Sun

Father of the Bride

South Pacific

Tobacco Road

A Midsummer Night's Dream

The Lady's not for Burning

Othello