|Isn't it rich? Isn't it queer?|
Losing my timing this late In my career?
And where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns.
Well maybe next year. . .— from" Bring in the Clowns."
Angela Lansbury & Catherine Zeta-Jones
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
The Walter Kerr isn't one of Broadway's biggest houses, but no one would call it intimate, especially since seats are currently even being sold for its very high up second balcony. And so, to address our London critic Lizzie Loveridge's concern (see review re-posted below), Stephen Sondheim's wonderful waltzing musical has not found another home where it could retain the up close intimacy of the tiny Menier Chocolate Factory where she saw it. And the transfer of this minimalist A Little Night Music
, the first ever on Broadway since it's more lavishly staged, 601-performance initial run, does prompt wishes for a little more scenery and a somewhat more full-bodied orchestra.
But look at it this way: Yearnings for days before scaled down staging weren't so fashionably necessary, put you right on the same page with Madame Armfeldt. Just think of her plaintive "Liaison" in which she compares the present with the days of her youth (" . . .What once was a villa at least/Is digs/ What once was a gown with train/Is now a simple little frock. . ."). And isn't this model for unique Class A musical theater all about remembering and regrets?
As book writer Hugh Wheeler saw to it that despite all their losses and bad choices the show's various couples had reason to wind up with a celebratory waltz, so there's as much to celebrate about this production's trip from London to New York as there is to kvetch
about. For starters, the orchestrations for the small orchestra (8 musicians) are quite good and insure that Sondheim's brilliant lyrics come across loud and clear. Best of all, the recasting has added some genuine stardust with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury on board as the leading ladies.
Zeta-Jones is a movie star making her Broadway debut, though she did start out on London stages and was a terrific Velma Kelly in the movie version of the long running hit Chicago.
She's a gorgeous, sexy Desirée who radiates warmth and self-assurance. She makes the most of her role's comic opportunities, as in her sharply timed "And this is my
daughter" when Fredrik introduces her to his teen-aged wife. As for her singing, it's just fine. Best of all, you won't be disappointed with her interpretation of "Bring in the Clowns."
Lansbury, is at 84-years-young one of our national treasures. In the course of her 60 years on stage she has nabbed five well deserved Tonys and may well make that an even half dozen this season.. Her performance as Madame Armfeldt is a triumphant answer to that lady's "Where's the art, where's craft?" At the performance I attended she was applauded going as well as coming, and no wonder. While she speaks more than she sings, every utterance deepens this portrait of a courtesan turned imperious grand dame.. Her pithy observations display an acute awareness of the diminishments of age and the impending visit of the Grim Reaper. And so, she wryly remarks that "to lose a lover or even a husband or two during the course of one's life can be vexing, but to lose one's teeth is a catastrophe." She tells the guests spending a weekend at her country estat e not to expect her best champagne because "I'm saving that for my funeral."
While "Silly People," a song never included before did not make it across the Pond, happily, leading man Alexander Hanson did. The handsome Brit partners as well with Zeta-Jones as he did with Hannah Waddingham. He's sophisticated though painfully flummoxed by his inability to bed his young wife, as evident in his delicious "Now" solo ("Removing her clothing/Would take me all day./And her subsequent loathing/Would turn me away--/Which eliminates B/and which leaves us with A").
Hanson's relaxed dealing with Desirée's jealous lover, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Aaaron Lazar) points to another cause for celebrating the New York casting. Lazar is a superb singer and plays the dashing adulterer with just enough, but not too much, pomposity. The two men's "It Would Have Been Wonderful" is indeed wonderful.
Further additions to the plus side of the ledger are the Sondheimian Greek Chorus commentators (Stephen Buntrock, Jayne Paterson, Marisa McGowan, Kevin David Thomas and Betsy Morgan), as well as young Frederika Armfeldt. Katherine Leigh Doherty, who played the see-all, hear-all youngster at the performance I saw. Her taking on the Puck persona during the second act's Midsummer Night
-like forest scene brings me to some of the more disappointing aspects of this revival, not the least of which are those skimpy birch trees which are likely to have the original production's designer Boris Aronson turning in his grave.
Disappointments in the cast start with Ramona Mallory. She is just too fluttery, silly and shrill as the virginal Anne, though one could easily expect otherwise since her mother played the same part originally. Erin Davie also isn't quite right as Anne's friend and the adulterous Count's wife.
Having young Hunter Ryan Herdlicka's Henrik Egerman as the first person on stage and playing the cello is a nice touch to set the tone for the hamber-sized orchestra's playing. However, Herdlicka fails to make a strong impression. The very opposite can be said for Leigh Ann Larkin's Petra, the sexy maid who turns an acceptable touch of vulgarity into excess. This probably accounts for the fact that her penultimate number "The Miller's Song," a good song which now somehow seems not to belong in the show.
To end on a positive note, A Little Night Music
isn't big on dancing, but the waltzing bookends everything. The changing partners signal the mistake-rife couplings at the beginning and the more positive reshuffling at the end. Sure Mr. Nunn has perhaps taken the "little" and "night" of the title a bit too seriously, in terms of scenery and some of the lighting, but any Sondheim musical, and this one especially, is too big on pleasurable, sophisticated lyrics and music to miss.
For some videos of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury go here
. And to read the London review go here
A Little Night Music
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler, suggested by a film by Ingmar Bergman;
Originally produced and directed on Broadway by Harold Prince
Directed by Trevor Nunn ""Choreography by Lynne Page
Cast: Catherine Zeta-Jones (Desirée Armfeldt), Angela Lansbury (Madame Armfeldt), Alexander Hanson (Fredrik Egerman), Erin Davie (Countess Charlotte Malcolm), Leigh Ann Larkin (Petra), Hunter Ryan Herdlicka (Henrik Egerman), Ramona Mallory (Anne Egerman) and Aaron Lazar (Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm); also Stephen Buntrock (Mr. Linquist), Jaye Paterson (Mrs. Nordstrom), Marisa McGowan (Mrs. Anderson), Kevin David Thomas (Mr. Erlanson) and Betsy Morgan (Mrs. Segstrom)
Music supervision: Caroline Humphris
Sets and costumes by David Farley
Lighting by Hartley T A Kemp
Sound: Dan Moses Schreier and Gareth Owen
Wig and hair design: Paul Huntley
Makeup design: Angelina Avallone
Stage manager: Ira Mon
Music direction: Tom Murray
Orchestrations:y Jason Carr
Music coordinator: John Miller
Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes with intermission
Walter Kerr Theater, 219 West 48th Street, Manhattan; (212) 239-6200.
Closing when Zeta Jones and Lansbury's contracts end-- June 20, 2010
- Overture/ - Mr. Lindquist, Mrs. Nordstrom, Mrs. Anderssen, Mr. Erlanson and Mrs. Segstrom
Night Waltz - Company
- Now - Fredrik
- Later - Henrik
- Soon - Anne, Henrik, Fredrik
- The Glamorous Life - Fredrike, Desirée, Madame Armfeldt, Mrs Nordstrom, Mrs Segstrom, Mrs Anderssen, Mr Lindquist, Mr Erlanson
- Remember? - Mr Lindquist, Mrs Nordstrom, Mrs Segstrom, Mr Erlanson
- You Must Meet My Wife- Fredrik, Desirée
- Liaisons - Madame Armfeldt
- In Praise of Women - Carl-Magnus
- Every Day A Little Death - Charlotte, Anne
- A Weekend in the Country - The Company
- The Sun Won't Set - Mrs Anderssen, Mrs Nordstrom, Mrs Segstrom, Mr Lindquist, Mr Erlanson
- It Would Have Been Wonderful - Fredrik, Carl-Magnus
- Night Waltz II - Mrs. Nordstrom, Mr. Erlanson, Mr. Lindquist, Mrs. Segstrom and Mrs. Anderssen
- Perpetual Anticipation - Mrs Anderssen, Mrs Nordstrom, Mrs Segstrom
- Send in the Clowns: Desirée
- The Miller's Son: Petra
- Finale - The Company