Theater Reviews by Morna

Morna Martell

THE CROWN: Series on PBS

I hope you are all enjoying this fascinating series even though there’s been some criticism over the image of members of the Royal family. Happily, viewers are not deterred and in fact, seeing this secluded family as real people, with distinctive personalities, is obviously part of the charm. I myself, being British born and raised, spent many years living under the mythical Royals which adds to my enjoyment. However, I’d like to add a personal experience that strangely parallels the hubbub surrounding the depictions in “The Crown”.

It started in the 1980’s when my literary agent, the legendary Bertha Klausner, gave me a short play by another of her clients to read. It was titled, “Wally For Queen” and written by the illustrious Upton Sinclair. He was a distant cousin to the infamous Mrs. Wallis Simpson for whom King Edward the Eighth gave up his throne in 1936. This delightful short play described the human relationship between her and the Prince of Wales during their affair.

There was interest in the subject at this time, and Bertha arranged for me to work with a noted Broadway director on a full-length adaptation. As I expanded the script, Upton’s dialogue inspired me to show two very real, and perhaps eccentric people, unlike the pompous waxworks figures so often seen as Royalty onstage. Well, the director and I didn’t see eye to eye as he wanted the more respectful (to me cliché) image of these two famous people. So, the project landed entirely in my lap.

Bertha sided with me and, by the time my “Wally For Queen” was finished, she had an important Broadway woman producer eager to read it. I was surprised to learn she sent back the script saying, “The dialogue is all wrong. Members of the Royal Family don’t talk like that!” Happily, the Off-Broadway group, Works by Women, eagerly accepted it and it opened to excellent reviews that seemed to prove that they do.

After another OOB production, retitled “Wally and Davy” with a male actor playing Wallis, I decided to adapt it into a Cabaret Book Musical. With a score by my composer-lyricist husband Ralph Martell, and a new title, “The Windsor Follies”, and starring British actor Keith Benedict.  Before its scheduled Off-Broadway opening on 42nd Street, we were invited to premiere it at The Royal Suite in The Waldorf Towers. This was a gala event with NYC theater luminaries attending and a write-up in Cindy Adams prestigious column.

To our surprise, in spite of this good publicity, attendance at the West Bank Café was light and the enthusiasm for the subject seemed to have waned. Then a Jewish friend who came to the show, took me aside. “Morna,” she said gently, “People aren’t coming because these two were Nazi supporters and you are glamorizing them.” Huh! Suddenly I had written a romance for two despised people who no one would find charming, even with songs.

I now realize that there is a risk when one writes characters based on famous figures. People have an image of them and do not want you changing it for better or worse. My interpretation, taken from Upton Sinclair’s version, was of two delightful if superficial people, in an unusual lifestyle, who fall impossibly in love.  Not pompous statues, not secret fascists, not pitiful misfits, but just plan Wally and Davy! See THE WINDSOR FOLLIES video on You Tube and let me know what you think:

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