Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Starry Starry Night - A Little Night Music - Musical Review

A Little Night Music - Walter Kerr Theatre - Broadway, New York, NY - **** (out of 5 stars)
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by Hugh Wheeler, Directed by Trevor Nunn, Choreographed by Lynne Page

As I noted earlier in my review of the current Broadway revival of A View From The Bridge, Broadway has been relying more and more on major stars to fill the seats, often to the demise of talented but obscure Broadway actors toiling away on the stage.

So here comes Catherine Zeta-Jones from Hollywood swooping into one of the most prized musical roles, the one that gets to sing Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns" to join national treasure Angela Lansbury (who, while a major star, at least has starred on many Broadway shows and is partly famous from them in the first place), and while the theatre elite were ready to pounce, CZJ's star aura dazed everyone into a warm loving glow and won everyone over.

And indeed, CZJ is superb as Desiree Armfeldt, the aging star actress (so it's not a total stretch) and her singing is quite lovely and her natural star presence easily fills the stage without overdoing it. By the time she warbles out "Send in the Clowns" in the 2nd act, it's a heartfelt, almost hurtful yearning that gives the song the deep resonating melancholy needed without resorting to theatrical tricks. It's simply a splendid performance and reminds us that CZJ is in fact born from the stage (as she started off in theatre in England before she became famous for her film roles).

It's an honour to see Angela Lansbury again (last time as a kooky fortune teller in Blithe Spirit) on stage, now as the wheelchair bound Madame Armfeldt.

Now, this was my first time actually seeing this classic/elitist musical, and I came with a bit of trepidation after hearing how perfect this little chamber musical was. Which meant I was going to be bound to be bored silly or hate it, but luckily, I thought it was such a delightful show with some amazing songs from Sondheim (I know, I want to hate him but I really can't). Many purists have still complained that this new production via London's West End that debuted at the tiny Menier Chocolate Factory is too pared down, too simplistic and minimalist, especially when it comes to the score and the downsized orchestra. Luckily, as a A Little Night Music virgin, I couldn't tell, and I didn't mind the minimalist production at all, and I quite enjoyed the simplistic set.

My only major complaint was, that while the big stars filled the above-title roles quite nicely, it was actually the second tiered set of actors that I wasn't as sure about. Broadway stars Aaron Lazar's Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (above right) and Erin Davie's Countess Charlotte Malcolm seemed almost comically caricature compared to the soft humanist approach by CZJ. Newcomers Hunter Ryan Herdlicka and Ramona Mallory played the silly younguns Henrik and Anne Eggerman almost a bit too one note, though Herdlicka's performance grew on me, while Mallory's became a little grating.

Instead, it was the third tier of actors who impressed me the most. The ensemble that filled out the butler and maid characters had the most impressive voices and some great facial expressions in reaction to the more central characters. Bradley Dean, Kevin David Thomas, Jayne Patterson, Marrisa McGowan and Betsy Morgan (who dazzled me in the lead role of a new musical version of Giant) all had exquisite voices and luckily filled out many of the songs with a lusciousness.

Leigh Ann Larkin (Gypsy, Ragtime) made a great comic and heartfelt turn as Petra, though a role and song that seems to come from nowhere.

And Alexander Hanson (the only remaining original cast member from it's UK debut) is formidable job as the leading man Frederik Egerman, and nicely holds his own against CZJ's star power.

I adored the music and the production and totally had stars in my eyes at Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury's performances, and I was completely taken by the ensemble casts' voices. The show may have been a starry one, but it made for a lovely lovely night.

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com


Megan said...

I completely agree with your review! I saw ALNM first with CZJ and then with and understudy and I was shocked at how much I missed her when she was gone - there's just something she bring to the role that infuses the entire show. And I'd also never seen ALNM before this production, so don't get why everyone seems to be so against the staging and direction.

Esther said...

I agree, too! This was my first time seeing A Little Night Music and I was captivated for the entire 3 hours. I really did feel transported into this story and I loved the different "takes" on love that each couple represented, all overseen by Ms. Lansbury, whose character has seen it all. Hearing her sing was breathtaking. Plus, CZJ, is so glamorous and warm. What a presence! This was my first time hearing "Clowns" in context and I thought she was terrific. I had a chance to get my Playbill signed afterward and when she came out I thought, "That's a movie star!"

NytixBlogTeam said...

Great review, though I admit I'm one of the purists who didn't like the pared down orchestra. Loved Catherine Zeta-Jones (her weird performance on the Tonys was nothing like how she performed in the show, thank goodness). I'm really excited about seeing the show again now that Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch are going into it. We're already listing some considerable discounts over at nytix.com, so it looks like fans who want to make a return visit won't have to break the bank.

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