Helen Mirren Can’t Sing, Gets an Award Anyway at Roundabout Theater Company Gala

New York’s Roundabout Theater Company celebrated Helen Mirren March 2 by reminding her, repeatedly, that she can’t sing her way out of a paper bag.

Helen Mirren can do a lot of things,” said Alec Baldwin, who introduced the performance segment of the gala evening. “She can act. She speaks French. She has a tattoo. But there’s one thing she cannot do. Helen Mirren cannot sing.”

He then introduced a string of actors there at the Waldorf Astoria ballroom “to sing all the songs she can’t,” a roster of performers that included Alan Cumming, Kelli O’Hara, Victor Garber and Laura Benanti. The latter crooned an earnest medley of Mirren favorites — such as “Single Ladies” and “Fat Bottomed Girl.”

Mirren, currently appearing on Broadway in “The Audience,” made her Broadway debut some 20 years ago in the Roundabout’s production of “A Month in the Country.” A very young Alessandro Nivola played her son in that show, and Nivola was there at the gala Monday night to remember falling so madly in love with Mirren that he tried to attract her romantic attention by turning an onstage hand-kiss into a sloppy finger-nibble.

He wrote her a note the next day to apologize, he recalled. She responded by marching into his dressing room, crumpling the letter in her hand and asking, “Do you really take me for that much of a prude?”

Mirren was there to receive the Roundabout’s Jason Robards Award for excellence in theater, presented to her at the gala by Jennifer Garner, an understudy in that same production of “Month in the Country.” With characteristic modesty, Mirren turned the focus away from herself in her acceptance speech.

She dedicated her award to Alan Howard, the English stage actor who died last month, and lavished praise on Roundabout artistic director Todd Haimes. “If Todd were English he’d be Sir Todd Haimes,” she said. “In fact, I’m going to dress up as the Queen and knight him myself.”

She also professed nothing but admiration for American actors. “There’s a different between American and English theater actors,” she noted. “American actors learn their lines.”

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