Monday, August 02, 2010

A Little Night Music (The SOB Revisit)

A Little Night Music (The SOB Revisit)

***1/2 (out of ****)

Talk about the difference between night and, well, Night.

What was once a rare champagne in London when I first caught Trevor Nunn's effervescent little revival of A Little Night Music at the cozy Menier Chocolate Factory had merely become just an amiable sparkling wine when it finally transferred to Broadway late last year.

Fizzy and fun, to be sure, but mass market nonetheless.

All the striations of intimacy I experienced at the Menier had seemingly been dispensed with in attempts to broaden its box office appeal as widely as possible. But given last season will best be remembered as the one in which the Great White Way was overrun with Hollywood stars, it seemed to be the price we had to pay for seeing A Little Night Music back on Broadway's boards after a 35 year absence.

The revival succeeded primarily on the backbone of the indefatigable Menier holdover Alexander Hanson (who continues to astound as Frederik Egerman) and the enormous strengths of Angela Lansbury (who miraculously made fig newtons out of figs). Say what you will about Jason Carr's spare orchestrations, David Farley's simple scenic design and Hartley T. A. Kemp's dim lighting, but I believe if you have a transcendant Desiree, any issues with them fade away. But because this revival first opened with one who was not, the problematic elements seemed to take center stage.

After a brief hiatus for the show after the departure of its two previous leads, I'm happy to report that what once was figs, is now a sumptuous feast on Broadway (and yet again for those of us fortunate enough to see the Menier production). A Little Night Music's holdover cast seems immensely more assured as they've grown tremendously into their roles since the show first opened in 2009. They exude enormous confidence even if their characters do not. And that's half the battle.

But more significantly (and blessedly), the entirely intoxicating Bernadette Peters demonstrates how richly textured and sparkling Desiree Armfeldt can ... no, should .... be.

Peters offers a spellbinding master class in highly stylized nuance that is at once completely winning, enchanting and altogether shattering. As a valiant trouper and schemer who thoroughly understands that her weekend in the country may very well prove to be her last true opportunity in finding peace within herself and love in the man she's always loved, Peters' Armfeldt has every subtle shading necessary to effectively balance Desiree's lust for life with her darkest fears. After witnessing her heartwrenching rendition of "Send In The Clowns," you can't help but contemplate, "So this is how it's done."

Assuming the mantle as Desiree's mother, Madame Armfeldt, Elaine Stritch cackles a cacophany of delight and crackles with charm, even as she sometimes cracks from the untold pressure of hastily learning her lines. While her "Liaisons" could easily be dubbed liaisons and on and on, Stritch recovers well and soldiers valiantly on, managing to effectively offer her own unique and endearing interpretation of the lady who's been with kings and seen some things that a lady ought not to see. Still, you can't help but wonder if this Madame Armfeldt had considered herself a Bohemian in her own youth.

It's impossible to walk away from this newly fermented A Little Night Music without marveling at how definitively rich and absolutely ingenious Stephen Sondheim's glorious musical truly is. Finally, with a Desiree for the ages, A Little Night Music has aged into the first-rate vintage bubbly we've been thirsting for.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminate against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I have received nothing of value in exchange for this post.

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