Ruth Williamson Eyes Kay Thompson as Subject of New Project

News   Ruth Williamson Eyes Kay Thompson as Subject of New Project You can almost hear the mad scat singing of Kay Thompson already.

You can almost hear the mad scat singing of Kay Thompson already.

Actress Ruth Williamson, the big-eyed character actress currently breaking up audiences as Eulalie McKechnie Shinn in The Music Man on Broadway, has on her plate a wish to develop a project based on the life and work of singer-author-actress-vocal arranger Kay Thompson.

Thompson, who was Judy Garland's vocal coach and also the author of the popular "Eloise" children's book series, is beloved for her rather grand movie-musical performance in "Funny Face" (1957), in which she played a voracious fashion-magazine publisher.

Bigger-than-life is something Williamson knows about: In Broadway's Epic Proportions she let her eyelids do the talking in a performance that seemed to be an homage to Carol Burnett, and in Music Man she is so big and funny the laughs seem like bright exit music.

"In recent years, I have been trying to get the rights to Kay's life story as well as several of her vocal arrangements," Williamson told Playbill On Line. "With her death came a flood of requests for 'Eloise' rights. Her older sister, who controls the estate, was overwhelmed. I was advised to bide my time. I had many people interested in helping me. I even had an angel interested in backing me." The Thompson project is still on Williamson's mind, she said, but she's been swamped lately. "In the meantime, I have been busy with other projects: Three Broadway shows in a row, three films and several television projects," said Williamson. "I fear Kay has been on the back burner for far too long."

She said she's still interested in her own show about Kay, but "the time to pursue this project seems yet to come. I need her sister's blessing and I also need the right collaborators."

Thompson is known in the show business community, but is not a household word for her performances. "Funny Face," in which she sang "Think Pink," "Bonjour, Paris" and The Gershwins' "Clap Yo Hands" (in a scatty comic duet with Fred Astaire), was one of only a few movie performances. She is credited with creating vocal arrangements for a number of movie musicals ("Till the Clouds Roll By," "Ziegfeld Follies"). She died in 1998.

"I suppose what fascinates me about Kay is her unapologetic venture into masculine territory in an era when such bravura was neither hip nor 'lady-like,'" Williamson told Playbill On-Line. "And this courage came from a highly intelligent, heterosexual woman with a sublime sense of style. She was, I think, the only female vocal arranger at M-G-M...maybe in the whole industry...and, in many smart opinions, the best. She was also a brilliant actress and singer, who's 'smart dame' persona carried over into every aspect of her being, from the way she dressed to her vocal phrasing, from her physicality -- she was voguing before voguing was invented! -- to her razor wit."

-- By Kenneth Jones