Gay cabaret performer, Don Snell, returns to Dallas at the Theater Three basement, March 23-26, 2003, with his performing partner, Shano Palovich, in A Private Spirit: Noel Coward and his Gal Pals.Palovich will enact the roles of Gertrude Lawrence, Tallulah Bankhead, and Marlene Dietrich.

Snell was born in Houston and received his degree from Trinity University in San Antonio. He lived in Dallas from 1978-85 where he owned Jan Hart Designs, a soft-side luggage manufacturing company. Around 1980, he did a two-actor show, How I Got That Story, at Theater Three with Jac Alder, T3s co-founding director. The following year, Snell co-wrote the musical, Rise and Shine, highlighting the career of composer/lyricist Irving Berlin, which was produced by T3.

From his home in West Hollywood, Snell reminisced about his early acting career: "In 1985 I sold my luggage business and moved to New York, because I wanted to get back into acting full-time." He spent time at Playwrights Horizons and attended NYU film school, where he won the Focus Award for a student film.

He originally conceived and performed A Private Spirit as a one-man show for two performances in Las Vegas in a 250-seat off-strip theater. He played to sold-out houses. After reading the reviews, the president of Las Vegas' Venetian Hotel called Snell. He wanted to produce the show in Las Vegas, since that is where Coward resurrected his career in 1955.
"I re-wrote the script to incorporate Coward's gal pals."

The script is a bit like art imitating life. Snell plays a shut-in who buys memorabilia on e-bay. Snell recently purchased a 1970 Dietrich recording done at the Cafe de Paris.
"In the early 1950s Coward went to the Cafe de Paris to do a club act when he was passe. This act got him re-started. He was then booked at Las Vegas' Desert Inn at $40,000 a week."

Snell said he feels a kinship with Noel Coward, who was born in 1899. "I was born exactly 50 years later in 1949." He wanted to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Coward's birth. To commemorate the occasion, Snell said he selected a smoky, gay bar in the Silver Lake section of Los Angeles, an area where gay couples congregated in the 1960s. He sang two of his favorite Coward songs: "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" and "Mad About the Boy" (a song Coward never sang in public). Coward lived in an era where gays could not openly be who they were without damaging their professional reputations.

Nowhere does Coward express his feelings about this situation more poignantly than in the character of Hugo in his play, A Song at Twilight (from his Suite in Three Keys collection). Coming out was not an option for Coward. Snell said he experienced the same situation: "I was a cute young thing when I moved to New York in 1971 right out of Trinity University. I was hit on by casting directors of both sexes. This was only three years after Stonewall, and it wasn't feasible to come out."

Snell told of how Noel Coward's lover of 35 years, Graham Payn, was not present when Coward was awarded the Order of the British Empire, as opposed to today's award winners, whose same-sex partners openly share in their honors.

In summing up his Dallas show, Snell talked of moving to London in 1973, one month after Coward's death and living one block from where Coward had lived. Snell said he felt Coward's presence as he walked those neighboring streets. "The show is all about Noel Coward channeling himself into me in order to come out."

In addition to the songs mentioned Snell will also sing "Matelot" which Coward wrote for Graham Payn. He will sing another perennial Coward favorite, "Don't Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs. Worthington," as well as many more Coward classics.
The show is directed by Robert Schrock who directed "Naked Boys Singing" in Los Angeles. Schrock worked with Mary Martin, Lynn Redgrave, Roddy McDowall, and Graham Payn in a Noel Coward tribute in L.A.

Snell said when he first conceived of his show, his first call was to T3 musical director, Terry Dobson, whom Snell met when Dobson first arrived at T3 while Snell was in rehearsal with Jac Alder. Dobson has created new arrangements for Coward's classic songs.


Key Subjects: 
Don Snell, Noel Coward, Jac Alder, Shano Palovich, A Private Spirit, Dallas, Theater Three
Rita Faye Smith
March 2003
Don Snell Goes "Out" with Noel Coward