The thought of Katharine Hepburn singing seemed as preposterous as Liberace playing the banjo - and yet somehow it came to pass. She starred in the Broadway show Coco, a musical about the life of famed fashion designer Coco Chanel. It opened on December 18, 1969 and ran for nine-and-a-half months. Nominated for six Tony Awards, including Hepburn for Best Actress, the show won in two categories (Rene Auberjonois for Best Featured Actor and Cecil Beaton for Costume Design). No doubt tickets for this show were in the Christmas stockings of many gay men that holiday season.
Hepburn was 62 at the time and this was the only musical production of her career. Legend has it that Chanel was miffed when she realized it was Katharine and not Audrey Hepburn, twenty-one years younger than Kate, who would be portraying her. Chanel died a few months after the show closed (at the age of 87.)
Nearly forty years later, in September 2008, Shirley MacLaine portrayed Chanel in a made-for-cable movie on Lifetime (a non-musical version). She played the older Chanel while another actress played the younger Coco. (It was jarring that while the younger actress affected a French accent MacLaine didn't bother with one.)
The number from Coco that was performed at the 1970 Tony Awards was the lengthiest in Tony history - 16 minutes! Here is a portion of it:
This show is also noteworthy because Michael Bennett, just 26 years old at the time, was its choreographer. He received a Tony nomination for his efforts, as he did for Promises, Promises the year before. Then almost thirteen years to the date of Coco, he directed and choreographed Dreamgirls, which opened on December 20, 1981. This time he won the Tony for choreography. (And in between those two shows he directed and choreographed A Chorus Line.)