Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Little Night Music

"A Little Night Music" at the Walter Kerr Theatre, February 3, 2010

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music first bowed on Broadway in 1973.  Tales of potential Broadway revivals have floated for years until a tiny theatre, The Menier Chocolate Factory in London, started a string of stripped down revivals that have transferred over the last couple of years.  Among them, Sondheim's Sunday In The Park With George, which took residence via Roundabout Theatre Company in 2008.  Coming soon is La Cage Aux Folles, starting previews in April.  Under the direction of Trevor Nunn, ALNM has arrived in New York with a well-assembled cast including Catherine Zeta-Jones as Desiree in her Broadway debut.

Miss Z-J's Desiree is almost painfully beautiful, creating an interesting take on the role as a woman facing middle age who's gotten by on her looks, rather than her acting talent.  This Desiree is one from the bus and truck crowd of late 19th century Swedish theatre, a glamorous facade covering a woman growing lonely and tired of the continual games of lovers and roles.  Miss Z-J was not in her finest voice at this performance (though it was matinee day), but overall managed to find a lovely heart in the role. Her regret was almost palpable in Sondheim's only pop hit, "Send In The Clowns."

Nearly walking off with the show was Angela Lansbury as Mme Armfeldt.  This aging courtesan, now full of unsolicited advice and Wildean quips, lands each zinger with finesse.  "Liaisons" (one of my favorite Sondheim songs) sums up the evolution of the expedience of love and lust from the feudal system to the aftermath of the industrial revolution as she shares her exploits with and acquisitions.  Ms. Lansbury's performance is masterful.  She took home her 5th Tony for last season's Blithe Spirit and is likely lined up for another nomination.

As Frederick Egerman, Alexander Hanson brings a naturalism to the unsettled lawyer trapped in a new marriage with a friend's daughter that remains unconsummated.  His discomfort and resignation to middle age ring true.  As his son Henrik, Hunter Ryan Herdlicka never seems to find much beyond two dimensions.  Ramona Mallory,  playing Anne, the role her mother Victoria originated in the original Broadway production, is neither a lookalike or soundalike, but makes the role her own - an auspicious debut.  I look forward to her next outing.  Rounding out the cast are Erin Davie as Charlotte, giving us a glimpse of what Little Edie might have been had she actually married and left Long Island.  Leigh Ann Larkin cruises through the role of the maid, Petra, until "The Miller's Son" late in Act II turning the boast into a confession.  Aaron Lazar wins the vocal competition as Carl Magnus, flourishing through "In Praise of Women."

David Farley's low-key and adaptable mirror-panel sets were mostly visible under Hartley T. A. Kemp's minimal lighting. Mr. Farley's costumes were nicely serviceable as well.

Director Trevor Nunn has followed TMCF's tradition of musical "down-sizing" paring the story down to its core, with a focus on the story telling.  Even the once-lush score gets trimmed with a scaled-down 8-piece orchestra.  The reduction doesn't necessarily hinder the performance, but a fuller accompaniment might have gone a long way.  The show opens a bit darkly, with a funereal tempo and black-clad ensemble soon waltzing to Lynne Page's swirling choreography.

1 comment:

Gil said...

"The reduction doesn't necessarily hinder the performance, but a fuller accompaniment might have gone a long way."

Agreed--I usually don't care as much about large orchestras (at least not consciously), but there were moments in the show where I wished it sounded less like one actress with only one instrument backing her up.

I also thought her Send In the Clowns was fantastic.