Feature

Stage: A Little Night Music

The first Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim's sex farce stars Catherine Zeta-Jones as the declining ingénue and Angela Lansbury as her “acerbic” mother.

Walter Kerr Theatre
New York
(212) 239-6200

***

Fans of Stephen Sondheim have been weighing in with “wildly divergent reactions” to the first Broadway revival of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, said Frank Scheck in The Hollywood Reporter. Always a “vocal lot,” they primarily complain that Trevor Nunn’s minimalist staging is dimly lit and often just plain dim. But overall, Nunn elegantly handles the “emotional complexities and endlessly witty dialogue” of this somber sex farce based on Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night. Figure in the marquee presence of Catherine Zeta-Jones as Night Music’s declining ingénue, Desiree Armfeldt, and the indomitable Angela Lansbury as her “acerbic” mother, and you have the “welcome return” of a Broadway classic.

These days, casting movie stars whom audiences want to see in the flesh seems to be producers’ “favorite form of insurance,” said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. But Zeta-Jones does more here than just boost the box office. In her Broadway debut, Zeta-Jones brings “a decent voice, a supple dancer’s body, and a vulpine self-possession” to Desiree. At 40, she’s “drop-dead gorgeous” in costume designer David Farley’s “wasp-waisted dresses.” Such traits aren’t entirely suited to the character—Desiree is meant to be a world-weary figure, a once-ravishing actress whose physical beauty is on the wane. But Zeta-Jones’ voluptuousness actually makes the character’s attempts to win back the affections of a former lover seem far more plausible than in the original.

Zeta-Jones’ vocal performance on “Send in the Clowns” is a surprising showstopper, said David Rooney in Variety. But Lansbury proves to be this production’s “real jewel.” Seeing her perform Sondheim again at age 84 is an opportunity not to be missed. While Desiree busies herself trying to resuscitate old flames, Madame Armfeldt inserts her worldly observations into the proceedings. The role requires a strong presence, and Lansbury injects “tart flavor into the simplest ‘La la la.’” Nunn’s production may be dull at times, but the “wit and sophistication” of Sondheim prevails, and the show’s two stars prove that Night Music is still able to seduce.

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