The lights dim, Jonathan Williams takes his place at the piano; Thelma Ruby appears in a deep pink gown, sparkling like a diamond, and every member of the audience falls in love. Thelma Ruby is nothing less than a national treasure, 92 years old in March and filled with the joie de vivre only a happy life can give. She was the winner of the Oldie Magazine’s Oldie of the year Award for 2017 but she is not any old Oldie; she is the epitome of everything all of us want to become in our dotage.
She fills the stage with energy and enthusiasm and treats us all to songs from days gone by we have always loved, beginning with “Gee, But Its Good To Be Here” to the classics she sang on stage in Cabaret and Fiddler on the Roof.
This show is autobiographical and makes us all want to rush out to buy her book DOUBLE OR NOTHING so we can get a bit more detail about her early career and her late marriage to Peter Frye. Ruby gives us far more than a performance. We are part of a conversation filled with anecdotes and fond memories. It feels like we are all in Thelma Ruby’s living room sharing a cup of tea and a chunk of delicious nostalgia.
Ruby is unashamedly Jewish, lived in Israel for 11 years and gives us her wonderful memories of sharing the stage with Orson Welles, Judy Dench and many more stars we have seen in the West End. Through it all, the audience warms to this delightful and gracious lady telling us what she believes to be true. “I think theatre should be more than just entertainment,” she says. “It should leave you with something. You should know more, feel more and understand more.”
We agree; and Ruby’s show does just that. She makes you smile, brings tears to your eyes and fills you with wonder that this brave and enterprising personality has seen almost a century of life and is still positive, happy and filled with wonder.
Ruby calls herself a Yorkshire girl. Her mother was a child music hall entertainer and supported her daughter as she carved out her career in acting and in song. The audience at the Kingshead Theatre were treated to the result. She tells of her first real job entertaining wounded soldiers in World War II and she says, “That was when I really grew up….” seeing wounded men without limbs cheering and singing along with her.
The roles she played are reflective of the kind of person she is. She was the nurse in Romeo and Juliet, truly the most compassionate and caring part in the play and she was Cordelia in King Lear, the most beloved character in the script. She tells of performing Golda in Fiddler on the Room in South Africa in a preview for black people not allowed to go to formal theater at that time and she says, “That was the best part of my career.”
When she sings “Sunrise, Sunset” from that musical, there isn’t a dry eye in the house.
Thelma Ruby was Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret. As she sings “Somebody Wonderful Loves Me,” she recreates that plain, simple woman who grabbed our hearts because she was so intrinsically beautiful and so much like us.
This was a one off performance but she says, “The Kingshead Theatre keeps asking me to return,” and return she will. “That’s Entertainment” is a must see event for anyone who believes that life is not worth the effort it takes to live it. Thelma Ruby embodies the British spirit…she is a gift to us all.