Broadway Features and Reviews
A Little Night Music Sees Tony Award Future
By Shaina Gopen, Broadway Magazine
With 4 Tony Award nominations, the current Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music" continues to captivate audiences. Today the show is enjoying its first Broadway revival headlining under Oscar winning actress Catherine Zeta-Jones who is making her Broadway debut alongside the longtime veteran Angela Lansbury.
The 1973 original ran successfully for 601 performances fueled by praise for its union of Broadway enchantment and sophisticated emotional complexity. The revival too opened to critical acclaim and has been extended beyond its June commitment putting it on track to live up to the original.
However the source of both acclaim and ticket sales for the revival, the stars of the show, will not be staying for the extension and bow out on June 20th.
And it is rousing acclaim. Critics unanimously rave that Lansbury's combination of comedic timing and sentiment as Madam Armfeldt is the product of a legend committed to her craft. They also applauded Zeta-Jones' confident Desiree paired with her naturally mesmerizing charm and warm sensuality suitable to a woman who would draw dueling lovers, though often they can't help but point out her occasional overly emphatic delivery in lines and song.
Yet, while their passion for the leading ladies echoes through the theatre review sections, critics often found frustration in the rest of the production. For instance, there is some distaste with directorial decisions from Trevor Nunn who was charged with forgoing intimacy and subtlety for heavily accenting sexual innuendos and encouraging caricatures.
Then there was the staging. If you recall the original production, it was known for it's lavish detailed backdrop and scenery. Though occasionally appreciated for its symbolic contribution, most often the set in the revival was considered drab, a poor contrast to explicit tone of the acting, and plagued with dreary lighting and insufficient orchestra for the rich music.
Newsday forgave the heavy visuals, "skimpy production" and "scandalously reduced orchestras" only in the delight of Lansbury and Zeta-Jones movement among them.
Often Alexander Hanson, the only actor to come over with the show from London, is recognized as elegant and authentic in his portrayal of Fredrik, Desiree's old lover, but also an appreciated exception among the ensemble. Critics tended to find Ramona Mallory's Anne, Fredrik's virginal, 18-year-old wife, cartoonish, overplayed, and drastically childish.
Some found Erin Davie unconvincing as the Countess, wife of Desiree's current lover. Petra, the lusty maid, is collectively considered the most offensive victim of the revival's coarse direction, thrown away as a "lewd characterization."
Some critics felt distracted the "overwhelmingly broad ensemble performances" distracted from the play's emotionally complexity while Entertainment Weekly simply felt "the energy tends to flag a bit" when the leading ladies are not on stage.
The grousing around stage, direction, and minor characters could be a consequence of stacking up a first revival to a successful classic production. Later attitudes might soften initial complaints, but the stars that drew overwhelming praise and recommendation to go forth and see "A Little Night Music" will bow out next month.
What replacement casting could both continue the level commercial momentum that comes with movie stars and big names and continue to woo critics as the rest of the production evolves?
Rumor has it that producers are interested in Gwyneth Paltrow as Desiree and her real life mom Blythe Danner to take on Madame Armfeldt. As Showbiz 411 points out, they are much younger than the parts, but an intriguing solution none the less.
Like Zeta-Jones, Paltrow started her career on the stage and similarly possesses a strong singing voice, and Danner is the skilled veteran to fill Lansbury's shoes. And you have the movie star, not to mention the added publicity packaged with a mother and daughter team. Paltrow, who doesn't carry the same radiating warmth as Zeta-Jones, would bring a very different Desiree to the stage, and the mystery of what that would look like is intriguing.
A Little Night Music is nominated for the following Tony Awards In 2010:
Best Revival of a Musical
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical, Angela Lansbury
Best Sound Design of a Musical, Dan Moses Schreier and Gareth Owen
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