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Wednesday, 23 December 2009 00:15

Broadway Review: A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC

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A Little Night Music

Angela Lansbury and Catherine Zeta-Jones in A Little Night Music
Photo: Joan Marcus

The revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical, A Little Night Musicthat opened this past week at the Walter Kerr Theatre on Broadway is a charming production despite its slow and measured tempo. The show begins with a waltz; the couples change partners, a metaphor for what is to come.

Set in Sweden at the turn of the last century and based on the movie “Smiles of a Summer Night” by Ingmar Bergman, A Little Night Music originally opened at the Shubert Theatre on February 25, 1973 and starred Len Cariou, Hermione Gingold and Glynis Johns. It has a lyrical score and classic lyrics by Mr. Sondheim and a witty book by Hugh Wheeler.

Age is Just a Number
  • Cathleen Nesbitt was approaching 92 when she played Mrs. Higgins in the 1981 revival of My Fair Lady. She even went on tour with the show.
  • Former Ziegfeld Follies girl Doris Eaton Travis at 106 still makes appearances at the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Easter Bonnet Competition, and dances. (Since this was written, Ms. Travis passed away at the age of 106. View article.)
  • When Hermione Gingold played Madame Armfeldt in the original production of A Little Night Music she was 75.
  • Since this review was originally written, Elaine Stritch has now taken over the role of Madam Armfeldt.  Ms. Stritch is a plucky 84 years old.

Attorney Fredrik Egerman, played with zeal by Alexander Hanson has been having an affair with an actress, “the One and Only” Desiree Armfeldt, played by the lovely Catherine Zeta-Jones. He has been married just eleven months to his young bride, Anne Egerman who has thus far denied her husband the consummation of the marriage. She is played with intense earnest by Ramona Mallory. Also having an affair with the young thespian is the Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, a pompous dragoon played by the dashing Aaron Lazar. As if all of this wasn’t enough, Egerman’s son Henrik played prim and priestly by Hunter Ryan Herdlicka has a thing for his father’s new wife, his step-mother who is a year younger than he.

Theatre royalty, Angela Lansbury plays the droll Madam Armfeldt, mother to the touring thespian, Desiree. It appears impossible to know for sure who has been the oldest actor to have ever worked on Broadway (see sidebar) but at a mere 84, Ms. Lansbury gives a sharp, crisp and lively performance that rivals that of her performance in another Sondheim classic, Sweeney Todd. I smell a 6th Tony Award for Ms. Lansbury.

For her own part, Ms. Zeta Jones is charming as the morally obtuse Desiree. Her rendition of “Send in the Clowns” was honest and refreshing. While her voice wasn’t perfect, she sold the song. She’s reminiscent of a young Sophia Loren; you understand why these men want to have affairs with her.

Leigh Ann Larkin as the Egerman’s maid, Petra gives a sassy performance. Larkin turns “The Miller’s Son,” a “wink and a giggle” at marital security and infidelity into one of the best numbers in the show.

Angela Lansbury, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Keaton Whittaker in A Little Night Music
Photo: Joan Marcus

The revival is directed by Trevor Nunn with metronome precision. Unfortunately the tempo is set far too slow. The scenery by David Farley consists of a set of doors in an upstage wall. The doors have mirrors on them. When lit from behind they allow the audience to see through them. Behind these mirrors various wall hangings come and go to aid in creating a change of setting. Although the set is rather bland, Mr. Farley has used the mirrors cleverly. Farley has also designed the shows monochromatic period costumes which are quite lovely. Kudos to Paul Huntley for his work on hair and wigs. Unfortunately, the lighting by Hartley T A Kemp is dark and the slow counts on some of the cues mirror the sluggishness in the rest of the production. Some of them feel a beat too long or a beat too late.

While this production could easily be trimmed from its current running time of three hours by picking up some of the tempos, I suggest you don’t miss it for Ms. Lansbury’s and Ms. Zeta-Jones’ performances. Blythe Spirit was a fine start. But at last, something to wash the taste of Deuces out of my mouth. Thank you, Ms. Lansbury.

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Read full production credits at the Internet Broadway Database.

 

Last modified on Tuesday, 27 July 2010 22:59