September 18, 2010
Unlike so many of my fellow theater lovers, I seldom revisit a show after I’ve seen it. I have a hard enough time keeping up with the new stuff. But the buzz surrounding the replacement cast for the current revival of A Little Night Music (Bernadette Peters as Desirée! Elaine Stritch as Madame Armfeldt!) was so loud and so enthusiastic that my husband K and I decided we had to see for ourselves what everyone we knew was calling a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So we went. Alas, I came away thinking that maybe once really had been enough for me.
As touted, Peters delivers a moving rendition of the show’s signature song, and its composer Stephen Sondheim’s most famous, “Send in the Clowns.” But the rest of her performance seemed too broad for me—more emoting than genuine emotion.
I had even bigger problems with Stritch. She went up on her lines in her first speech, fumbled others and drew out the rest with long pauses that kept me on the edge of my seat about whether she’d make it through the performance and pushed the show's running time past three hours. I know Stritch is 85 but Angela Lansbury is just a year younger and she was the best part of this revival's original cast (click here to read my earlier review).
But, apparently, my disappointment with Stritch is only narrowly shared. Because K aside (her performance so distressed him that he literally put his head in his hands) the rest of the audience loved her, waited patiently until she finished her speeches, laughed indulgently at the faces she made as she tried to remember them and applauded madly at her every entrance and exit.
Broadway darlings Peters and Stritch aren’t the only changes. Aaron Lazar, who played Desirée’s pompous lover Carl-Magnus when the show opened last December had annoyed the hell out of me with his over-the-top antics and so I had looked forward to his replacement. Instead, I developed a new appreciation for Lazar’s work. Bradley Dean, who took over the role, is totally bland and doesn’t sing nearly as well.
Most aspects of the production remain the same, however. The tiny eight-member orchestra still can't do justice to Sondheim's score. And the set—rugs, pillows, a few chairs and the occasional bed—looks even chintzier than when I first saw it.
But there were some things I liked better this second time around. Ramona Mallory, who plays the far younger wife of the man Desirée truly loves, seemed shrill and almost amateurish in December but she’s matured over the past 10 months. Her passing resemblance to Peters also works in her favor. You can actually see why the husband Fredrik would be so infatuated with this younger incarnation of his ideal woman.
And speaking of Fredrik, I had admired the way Alexander Hanson played the role when I saw the show last year but, back then, he’d been overshadowed by his high-wattage co-star Catherine Zeta-Jones who would go on to win a Tony for her performance of Desirée. Now, there’s more of a balance between Hanson and Peters and he shines brilliantly.
So should you go see the show? Maybe. People like me who have the privilege of seeing lots and lots of shows can sometimes get overly picky. The house was sold out when K and I saw A Little Night Music earlier this week and nearly everyone seemed to be having a good time—almost as though it were once-in-a-lifetime experience.