Mark Hellinger Theatre - New York
Premiere: December 18, 1969–October 3, 1970
6 month on tour
Music Hall - Cleveland – (January 11, 1971 + 2 weeks)
Opera House – Chicago – (January 26-February 13, 1971)
Rochester Theatre Club – New York (February 16-February 20, 1971)
Bushnell’s Stage – Hartford (February 23-February 27 1971)
Morris A Mechanic Theatre - Baltimore (March 2- , 1971)
O’Keefe Center - Toronto – March 21-April 3, 1971)
State Fair Music Hall – Dallas (April 20-April 24, 1971)
Ahmanson Theatre - Los Angeles (June 1971)
Ahmanson Theatre - Los Angeles (June 1971)
Set between early autumn of 1953 and late spring of 1954, fashion designer Coco Chanel, after fifteen years of retirement, decides to return to the world of haute couture and reopen her Paris salon. With her new collection derided by the critics, she faces bankruptcy until buyers from four major American department stores - Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale's, Best & Company, and Ohrbach's - place orders with her. She becomes involved with the love life of one of her models, and flashbacks utilizing filmed sequences recall her own past romantic flings. Adding humor to the proceedings is a highly stereotypical bitchy gay designer who tries to impede Chanel's success. The finale is a fashion show featuring actual Chanel designs from 1918 to 1959.
Walter Kerr - The New York Times
"The show has become a showcase, a form of endearment, a gesture of assent, an open palm of respect, Miss Hepburn will never be old enough or tired enough to undergo one of those official evenings of tribute at which everyone gathers to summarize and reminisce. And so it's been arranged right now, with her doing all the work. If Coco is anything, it is Miss Hepburn's gala Benefit Performance, for our benefit."
What Kate had to say
Katharine Hepburn – Interview with Dick Cavett - 1973
"I was so tormented in the theatre, it frightened me so, that I thought, well I must come back and overcome that. And it took me my whole life. I mean, I even did that in Coco – how could’ve been insane enough to do Coco, when I couldn't obviously sing at all....it's very difficult, the voice, because you wonder, 'Am I going to be able to make a sound, when I'm petrified?"
Katharine Hepburn – Me – 1991
"If I could describe to you the terror – the sinking inadequacy – the blank horror which I felt every night before I went on. Like playing tennis without a racquet. Or, say, with a racquet with no strings – impotence – and pretense – Katie sings – Well, to me it was a great example of Katie doesn't sing.....Now to me this was a dreadful fact. I was back there in my hole waiting to go out into the ring. They were out there sitting – waiting – and they'd paid a big price for those tickets and they had a right to the best and here I was about to go forth – armed with a squeak. A mouse posing as a lion…..I prayed – I wept – I did my [vocal] exercises – I prayed – someone help me – and out I went. Please, God…… And do you know what? Love came across the footlights. And in waves and hugs….. That's all right, Katie – so you can't sing but we get it – we hear you – we feel – we know you. And so together we worked it out. And I got a little better – enough better so that I didn't die.”
What fellow actors, the director and friends had to say
She did wonderful things for chorus people. For Coco she bought the entire chorus new shoes because the company couldn't afford to buy them."
Garon Kanin – An Intimate Memoir – 1971
"The Mark Hellinger turned out to be extremely difficult to get to, and the Wednesday matinees were nightmares, or perhaps it is more correct to say day-mares.
The company did its best to work against the noise of the neighboring enterprise, but large sections of the audience, particularly those on the left side of the house and toward the rear, had a tough time.
Kate, as Coco, had several numbers in the first act: The World Belongs to the Young, Mademoiselle Cliché de Paris, On the Corner of Rue Cambon and The Money Rings Out Like Freedom, that she was able to belt out successfully, even against the racket. But toward the end of Act One, came a delicate scene with the memory of Coco’s father (projected on a screen behind her) during which she sand the moving title song Coco.
At the first matinee, Kate found it impossible to perform the number properly in the overwhelming presence of the noise from across the street.
The following Wednesday, she rearrange her schedule, and left for the theater an hour early. She went directly to the Uis construction site, found the supervisor's trailer, and asked to see him. He was out on the structure somewhere, but Kate made the matter seem so urgent that an assistant led her out onto the job.
Wearing the mandatory hard hat, she found herself facing the supervisor.
'Look here,' she shouted. 'My name is Katharine Hepburn and I work across the street.'
The astonished supervisor gasped at her. 'Holy Smoke!' he said. 'What the hell are you doing up here?'
'I have to talk to you,' said Kate. 'What?'
'I have to talk to you,' she shouted. ‘Okay. Come on down. Watch your step. How the hell did you get up here, anyway?'
In the supervisors trailer, he smoothed his hair and asked, 'Can I give you a cup of coffee, Miss Hepburn?'
'Sure,' she said, 'but I want more than that out of you.'
'Well, look,' she said. 'I know you’ve got to build this building but – on the other hand – we've got to give a show over there – I know we can't ask you to stop – but at least you can help us out – if you want to.'
'There is one main spot,' Kate explained carefully, 'It's my Coco number. You know. With papa.'
'Oh, sure,' he said, mesmerized. (Hepburnized)
'Well on Wednesdays,' Kate continued, 'that number starts at three-oh-five and goes on until about three-fourteen – so just for that little piece of time – couldn't you possibly hold the hammers?'
'Well, Jeez, I don't know how, Miss Hepburn,' said the supervisor.
'Sure you could,' urged Kate. 'Give them a coffee break or something. I'll pay for the coffee.'
'Yeah,' he said, 'but who will pay for the time? You know what there guys get, don't you?'
Kate gave him The Hepburn Look, and said softly, 'You can do it if you want to.'
He took at deep breath and said, 'I don't know, but lemme see what I can figure out here.'
'You are sweet,' said Kate and went across the street to make up.
At 3:05 that afternoon, as the introduction to her soft number began, the world outside fell suddenly silent. The audience may not have been aware of the abrupt change, but everyone connected with the Coco company was. The dancers, the singers, the orchestra, and the crew. Some of those who were momentarily free steeped out into the street to see what had happened.
Up and down the structure they saw the workers signaling for silence and looking at their watches, At 3:14 PM the applause for the number was all at once augmented by all hell breaking loose across the street.
In the darkness of the scene change, Kate was able to allow the radiant smile, which she had kept hidden in her rib cage, to burst forth on her face.
She went over to thank the men after the matinee, but their day’s work had ended, so she made a special trip over the following day to clamber all over the job, thanking her new friends. So it went for week after week. Every Wednesday at the specified time, the construction gang gave Kate a gift of silence.
Then came the afternoon when a Consolidated Edison crew, not connected with the Uris construction, turned up on the corner to make a cable repair. At 3:05 when the building work stopped, the uniformed Con Edison crew continued.
Whereupon, from every part of the structure, the shouts cam raining down.
'Hey, hold the noise, you guys!'
'Shut up down there, Katie’s on!'
'Hey, what’s a matter with you bastards? Don’t you know Katie is doing her number?'
In addition to the hollering and yelling, an ad hoc committee went dashing over to enforce the admonition.
At the end of the matinee, Kate was handed a note from the supervisor, explaining that the short burst of noise at the beginning of her number was '....not us, but that crazy Con Edison which we have now straightened out.'"
Garon Kanin – An Intimate Memoir – 1971
"The curtain call. A second standing ovation. Kate is visibly moved and in tears. Kate makes a speech in which she says, 'This is all very moving and very confusion – to stop something in the middle.' She goes on to say how much she owes Alan Jay Lerner for having faith in her and about what it meant to have people believe in you. She thanks 'Roger Evans, who is dead,' and 'Sue Seton, who worked with me every day.' She says 'And all these people standing here behind me have given me the support and faith and even the love that I needed.' There are shouts from the audience. Finally she shrugs and says, 'Well – I love you and you love me and let's leave it at that.'"
Katharine Houghton – New York Times – October 30, 2007
"Not until the outpouring of acclaim for her portrayal of Coco Chanel in the 1969 musical Coco did Hepburn, then 62, begin to enjoy performing live."
You can view a clip from
Coco at BlueGlobo. Kate performs the stunning sequence Always Mademoiselle on the 1970 Tony Awards. Click the image - it will bring you to the video clip