Play by Julian Barry. He was fast, furious, vulgar and funny and changed the face of comedy forever. Legendary American comedian, Lenny Bruce was the epitomy of the sixties, ground-breaking, extremely hip and constantly at odds with authority. He lived life in the fast lane and Julian Barry's biographical play takes us through his extraordinary up's and down's.
Born in the mid-20's in New York as Leonard Alfred Schneider, Lenny Bruce first came to prominance in the mid-50's. In 1961 he was imprisoned on obscenity charges. In April 1962 he performed at the Establishment Club in London but was refused permission to land in Britain a year later. He was also banned from Australia after he performed one show in Sydney. In 1963 a LA court found him guilty of illegal possession of drugs. He died in Hollywood on 3 August 1966 aged 40.
Julian Barry's play premiered on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in May 1971 where it enjoyed a 13-month run, with Cliff Gorman, who played 'Lenny', winning the Tony Award for 'Best Actor in Play'. In 1974 it was made into a movie starring starring Dustin Hoffman and directed by Bob Fosse.
Original London West End Production with Marty Brill 1975
Previewed 10 April 1975, Opened 14 April 1975, Closed 24 May 1975 at the Criterion Theatre
The cast featured Marty Brill as 'Lenny Bruce' with Tessa Bill-Yeald, Maurice Cockerill, Geoffrey Collins, Carol Cleveland, Kalman Glass, Mary Henry, Eve Karpf, Harold Kasket, Garry McDermott, Christopher Muncke, Ted Richards, Rosalind Strang and Laurie Webb.
Directed by Jonathan R Yates with designs by Hayden Griffin and lighting by Rory Dempster.
1st West End Revival with Eddie Izzard 1999
Previewed 27 July 1999, Opened 9 August 1999, Closed 16 October 1999 at the Queen's Theatre
The cast featured Eddie Izzard as 'Lenny Bruce' with Elizabeth Berkley, Sandra Caron, Matt Devereaux, James Hayes, Annette McLaughlin, Stephen Noonan and David Ryall along with the musicians Guy Barker, Clive Dunstall, Geoff Gascoyne, Peter King and Clark Tracey.
Directed by Sir Peter Hall with movement by Vincent Paterson, designs by William Dudley, lighting by Rick Fisher, music by Roger Kellaway and sound by Rick Clarke.
"The performance Eddie Izzard gives as Lenny Bruce is the compelling tribute of one great comedian to another. And it is an astonishing performance. In a lengthy two-act play - the first act alone lasts 90 minutes - I think that Izzard never once leaves the stage, and never once rests. He begins naked and at several other points is naked again; he deals with hecklers in the audience and with vast challenges onstage; and he tosses away the comedy for which he is beloved and shows us the out-of-control mania and self-destructiveness of Bruce's life. Izzard does not give us a perfect reproduction of Bruce, and the most adorable moments of the show are considerably more Eddie than Lenny... Izzard could be sharper. His sometimes stammering, dithering delivery sometimes blunts the rhythm of the play. But he doesn't blunt Bruce's anger... The basic shape of Hall's production is superb. The overlap between Bruce's legal life, private life and comic life is made surreal... The evening is carried by Izzard. His energy flows with extraordinary ease; the buoyancy of his spirit and the force of his commitment propel the whole show. Even when you are most aware of the imperfections of his impersonation, you are in no doubt that you are watching a major artist." The Financial Times
"How much filth can you take? Is there any case at all for rating the long dead and long-forgotten Lenny Bruce a master wit and martyr in the same breath as Oscar Wilde or Joe Orton? These questions go begging in Sir Peter Hall's inconclusive revival of Julian Barry's 1971 Broadway play which opened this week to upstage the first stirrings of the Edinburgh fringe festival. Eddie Izzard, the free-swearing, hutch riposte to Lily Savage, we all know, cross dresses. Lenny Bruce, the foul-mouthed American junkie who shook up the cabaret scene, and died with a needle in his arm in 1966, gave cross addresses. The living, over-lionised comedy star and the dead, oft-despised comedy martyr are curiously conjoined... But the brute fact is that Peter Hall's pretentious production - lots of mirrors, lots of half-masks - will be remembered only for a nude, simulated copulation scene between Eddie, rather alarming and flabby with his kit off, and Elizabeth Berkley. Miss Berkley, star of the underrated movie Showgirls, is equally compelling, though considerably more attractive, in the buff... Bruce was barred from Britain by Home Secretary Henry Brooke after his outrageous debut in 1962 at Peter Cook's Establishment Club. The trouble with this play is that it submits a twofaced defence of Lenny: he upset people but knew that he was doing so. If that's the intention, why moan about the reaction?... In the end, the show takes a ride on Lenny without releasing Eddie into new territory." The Daily Mail
"That great comedian Eddie Izzard sprawled naked on the stage of the Queen's Theatre in London could be described as too much of a good thing. Stripped bare, Eddie is a little podgy around the middle, although rolling around in the buff with tall and slender co-star Elizabeth Berkley may be just the exercise he needs to get into shape. There is, of course, more than full-frontal nudity to Peter Hall's production... there's lots of bad language, some of Bruce's bad-taste routines and a sizzling striptease by Ms Berkley. With practically nothing considered taboo among today's stand-up comics, Bruce's material no longer especially shocks. And the courtroom structure of this two-and-a-half hour biographical journey, with Bruce conducting his own defence of free speech at one of his many trials for obscenity, is a one-sided view of a fascinating slice of social history. But Izzard's performance - he is never off stage - is stunning, even if the Izzard and Bruce styles become intermingled as the evening progresses. There is also some terrific jazz from a top-class, on-stage band." The News of the World
Lenny in London at the Queen's Theatre previewed from 27 July 1999, opened on 9 August 1999 and closed on 16 October 1999