Heath Lamberts | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Heath Lamberts

Heath Lamberts

 Heath Lamberts, actor (b James Langcaster at Toronto 15 Dec 1941; d at Pittsburgh, Pa 22 Feb 2005). At school, Heath Lamberts won contests as a boy soprano and sang with the Opera Festival Association of Toronto, a precursor of the CANADIAN OPERA COMPANY. However, his true vocation lay in comic acting. He stated in a 1976 interview that after an unhappy childhood, he re-christened himself by climbing into a trunk and emerging as Heath Lamberts. In 1963, Lamberts graduated from the first class at the National Theatre School, and later studied mime at Le Coq d'Or in Paris.

Director John HIRSCH invited Lamberts to join the MANITOBA THEATRE COMPANY's Young Company, and the actor moved from there to the STRATFORD FESTIVAL the next year, where he played in Love's Labour's Lost, Twelfth Night, Falstaff, and Richard II, among other productions, winning 2 Tyrone Guthrie Awards. Christopher NEWTON then made Lamberts an integral part of his company at the VANCOUVER PLAYHOUSE THEATRE, where Lamberts played the title role in Tartuffe (1976) and a lead in Feydeau's A Flea in Her Ear (1980). The Newton-Lamberts association continued at the SHAW FESTIVAL for 12 seasons, where under Newton's artistic direction Heath Lamberts fully exploited his talent for farce, propelling his round little body through doors with exquisite comic timing, a knowing eyebrow cocked at the audience. He developed loyal fans with such hugely successful farces as A Flea in Her Ear (1980), Tons of Money (1981) and Rookery Nook (1983), displaying an astonishing talent for eccentric character roles. In 1980 he performed his one-man show, Gunga Heath, perfecting his talent for parody. He was often able to turn a supporting role into a major attraction, thereby gaining a huge number of fans who especially enjoyed his propensity for ad lib repartee. Lamberts was able to interrupt a show by verbal byplay with audiences and then return to the narrative without missing a cue.

One of the keynotes of his particular brand of comedy was panic. His nervous Gunner in Shaw's Misalliance (1972) made great fun of this panic by mishandling a flare gun all the way down his pant-leg. Heath Lamberts's genius was not simply with the mechanics of physical comedy but with the revelation of the anarchic vulnerability of an ordinary little man. Another signature of his comedy was its apparent innocence. His Monsieur Jourdain in Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (1989) for Bill GLASSCO and Guy Sprung's CANADIAN STAGE COMPANY wasn't simply a bourgeois fool who indulged in claptrap farce. He looked like an overawed child in love with ceremony, false grandeur, and the trappings of gentility. Lamberts's greatest performance was probably his remarkable interpretation of the title role in Cyrano de Bergerac (1983 and 1984, remounted at the ROYAL ALEXANDRA THEATRE in 1985), directed by Derek Goldby. It won him high praise for his ability to soar to the heights of romance while expressing all the pathos of the clown.

In Toronto and away from the Shaw Festival, Heath Lamberts also distinguished himself by playing Shelley Levine in David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross (1987). On Broadway, he played Cogsworth the Clock in Beauty and the Beast (1994-96) and King Septimus in Once Upon a Mattress (1997), opposite Sarah Jessica Parker. He displayed his enormous versatility in Pittsburgh, where his roles included Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1998), the Marquis of Queensbury in Gross Indecency (1999), the Marquis de Sade in Quills (2000), Sir Watkyn Basset in By Jeeves (2001), the tour de force title role in La Bête (2003), and Telyegin in Uncle Vanya (2006). Lamberts also acted in such films as Blood Sport (1989) and Ordinary Magic (1993), while in video he played Mr Whobody in Alligator Pie (1992).

Heath Lamberts was a member of the ORDER OF CANADA (1987), and won Dora Mavor Moore awards for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1981), Cyrano de Bergerac (1985), and One for the Pot (1996).