Cher Public

A Littler “Night Music”

Late in my career, but not losing my timing.  Photo: Joan Marcus.A Little Night Music at the Walter Kerr last night left me longing for a little more than we were given. Yes, there are some wonderful things about this revival of Stephen Sondheim’s most unabashedly romantic musical – and I’ll get to those in a minute – but the sets and costumes by David Farley are decidedly skimpy and cheap-looking.

On top of that, the continuing trend to usurp orchestra pit space for additional seating has reached the point where the  orchestrations have been reduced to what sounded like a keyboard, a violin and the occasional oboe. For theater-goers who remember the sumptuous original production (I was sitting next to one of those) it was quite a shock. For those who were not lucky enough to see the original production (me), it still looked skimpy and cheap – particularly for a hefty ticket price of $132 a seat.

The other big difference from the original production was a younger, more overtly sexual Desiree Armfeldt (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Director Trevor Nunn has said that this casting was inspired by the Ingmar Bergman film Smiles of a Summer Night on which the musical was based. It was still risky. Casting a younger woman as Desiree tends rob the role of much of its inherent pathos, and in the hands of a less charismatic actress it might not have worked.

Eva Dahlbeck (35) as Desiree in "Smiles of a Summer Night."

Eva Dahlbeck (35) as Desiree in "Smiles of a Summer Night."

I’m still not convinced it works well, but Ms. Zeta-Jones’ big emotional performance, radiant beauty, and sheer star power carried the evening. Heard live, her singing is not as polished as it was in the soundtrack for Chicago, for which she won an Oscar, but she has a strong, handsome alto that easily encompasses the limited demands made by the score. Her famous eleven-o’clock number, “Send in the Clowns,” was richly textured and beautifully done.

As Desiree’s mother, Madame Armfeldt, Angela Lansbury was triumphant. What a wonderful performance! Exhibiting none of the halting memory lapses that marred last year’s charming, but oddly off-kilter, Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit, the musical theater legend is on sure ground here in a part that plays to all of her strengths.

Alexander Hanson was also wonderful. He is a big, handsome man, and projected a calm, gentle sexuality that was exactly right for the conflicted Fredrick. He has a lovely singing voice, razor sharp timing and managed to quietly hold his own against Zeta-Jones’ and Lansbury – not an easy thing to do.

I wish I had liked the Carl-Magnus of Aaron Lazar more than I did. But for my taste he just isn’t a big enough man to project the larger than life swagger and pomposity needed to make this part work. And I’m sorry, Carl-Magnus needs to have a big, booming, operatic, baritone voice, not a stolid tenor.

Too often Charlotte becomes a part about self-deprecating one-liners. Erin Davie not only delivered every zinger right on target, but she also gave a deeply touching performance that let us see underneath the skin of this lonely, desperate woman. “Every Day a Little Death” was heartbreaking. Watch out for her: she’s a really great singing actress.

Hunter Ryan Herdlika was a sweet, charming Henrik, but Ramona Mallory needed to be slapped for her hysterical, over-the-top, annoying, shrill performance as Anne. But Katherine Leigh Doherty was lovely as young Fredrika Armfeldt.

Leigh Ann Larkin sang a strong, surprisingly moving “The Miller’s Son,” and was otherwise winning as Petra.  Alone among the cast she did not attempt a British accent. Why?

The voices of the rest of the ensemble were thin, nasal and insubstantial. Combined with the spare orchestra, it contributed to the light weight, “on-the-cheap” feel of the show.

The choreography by Lynne Page was functional but uninspired. Other than his controversial choice about Desiree’s age, Nunn didn’t seem to have have much to say about the piece. Hartley T A Kemp needs to go back to lighting school or wherever it is lighting designers are supposed to learn how to design lights, because  75% of the show was played in the dark.

  • bigbob56

    Thank you for that review. Night Music is my favorite musical -- I saw the original 5 times ! and will not soon forget those Boris Aronson white birch trees. I have also worked with Ms. Lansbury who is the most gracious, kind, fun, funny, classy etc etc etc lady going and I am trying to figure a way to get to NY to see her. Friends have seen the show and were a little less kind about the evening than you were but all agreed Lansbury was the real thing. Thanks again

  • mrsjohnclaggart

    A certain person saw Nightmusic 12 times, beaten by that same person seeing Follies 17 times, and a certain person saw Sweeney Todd more than that on request. The stories cannot be told, save that one hopes hungentenor Bradley Dame Gladys Constance Cooper, DBE got his shots after knowing biblically Lady Victoria Gabore, of the Gabore schwestern, naturlich.

    • Cassandra

      Hahahahhaha! Hilarious final sentence.

      • Baritenor

        To be completely honest, MrsJC, I read that one like six times and I still don’t totally understand it. You know I love you, and you’re always hilarious, but just once I wish you’d speak in English instead of Gossipese.

        • NYCOQ

          Oh Baritenor, I have been wanting to say that comment MJC for years. Your knowledge and taste is wondrous, but sometimes getting to point (without naming names of course) just works better.

  • You nailed this review. Bravo. While I was not thrilled with the production itself during previews, I am excited to see the performances when I have tickets again in a couple of weeks.

  • SilvestriWoman

    Here is the woman born to play Desiree. This still brings me to tears.

    • MontyNostry

      There’s a production coming at the Chatelet in Paris later this year with Kristin Scott-Thomas as Desiree. A good piece of casting, I think.

      Alexander Hanson played Egermann in London too and he was excellent. As a whole, however, I wasn’t crazy about the Nunn production. It’s a pretty failsafe show, though.

      • calaf47

        Kristen Scott Thomas has cancelled due to a foot injury. Her place will be taken by Greta Scacchi.I have tixs to see this on Feb 18th…Ms Scacchi’s 50th birthday.

        • bigbob56

          Leslie Caron to play Mme. Armfeldt.

        • Greta Scacchi throughout her 20s and 30s was the most beautiful woman on the British screen. At 50 she’s probably exactly right for Desiree -- as Jean Simmons was at 48 when I saw her play it. (I’d already seen Glynis Johns.)

        • Gualtier M

          Greta Scacchi played Yelena in the 1988 or 89 “Uncle Vanya” I saw in London with Jonathan Pryce, Imelda Staunton and Michael Gambon. I thought she looked so ravishing it made sense that every man was in love with her. Her stage chops seemed very good to me. But everyone else was telling me “She can’t act, what is she doing?”. I really liked her.

        • I love Greta Scacchi. There was a time when she looked poised to be the next big thing but she never seemed to catch on here in a big way. And I’m excited about Leslie Caron; I’ve always loved her.

          But no one will ever sing “Send In The Clowns” like Millicent Martin.

        • MontyNostry

          I read an article about Greta Schacchi a while ago and it seems her career was affected by a very dark and turbulent relationship with Vincent d’Onofrio.

          Wasn’t she always famous for getting her tits out at every opportunity? Is there a suitable momenbt in ALNM?

        • Gualtier M

          Actually there is a place where Desirée can flash her bodacious ta-ta’s. It is in the first Act where Fredrik visits Desirée in her dressing room. She opens her dressing gown to reveal to him that she has kept her figure.

          Usually the reveal is done facing upstage with the actress’ back to the audience but Greta could turn that around or even drop the robe to the floor.

    • Duvalin

      Though certain friends of mine think this sacrilege (due to this woman’s theft of Norma Desmond from Patti), I find it incredibly moving and also well sung:

  • Gualtier M

    London seems to be grinding out these chamber version revivals of classic shows (the Doyle effect) with minimal sets and chamber orchestras with an eye towards Broadway. I hope it is a trend that will stop. The obvious gains are -- no big sets so you cut down on running costs and union stagehands and also union musicians. No royalties to the original orchestrator. Just like classic choreography by Jerome Robbins or Bob Fosse that can’t be bettered by today’s hacks are dropped from “On the Town” or “Sweet Charity” for similar reasons.

    It would be nice to hear the full orchestra and have a full production for the first Broadway revival of this great show. I will try to get a TKTS discounted ticket soon just to see Zeta-Jones and Lansbury.

    BTW: Kristin Scott-Thomas injured her foot and has had to cancel her participation in the Paris “Night Music” with Leslie Caron. She is being replaced by Greta Scacchi who I saw in “Uncle Vanya” in London over twenty years ago. Maybe Scott-Thomas will replace Zeta-Jones in New York.

    • The other side of the coin with choreography is shows that purport to update the book (West Side Story, now with Spanish lyrics!) but treat the original staging like a museum piece. Chorus Line did the same thing. As for choreographers, I would suggest that there are a lot of great ones working these days… on SO You Think You Can Dance, where millians more people see their work than would on B’Way. Tyce Diorio (whose botched Chorus Line audition lives in infamy in the documentary Every Little Step), Mia Michaels, Mandy Moore, Adam Shankman, and Desmond Richardson all do fine work on the show. 4 choreographers were nominated this year for Emmy Awards, and all of the routines were stellar. They’ve won several in the past. And I would bet they make far more money doing the show than on B’Way.

    • Will

      The other side of the coin on the chamber versions of his musicals was provided by Stephen Sondheim himself in his recent Times interview. He knows what has been lost but says he loves the more intimate versions and gives them his blessing.

      • Pelleas

        In honesty, though, has he ever come out AGAINST a production of one of his shows? To the media, I mean. His praise of these reduced productions is something of an echo of his past penchant for praising every Bobby as the best he’d ever seen, and finally playing it the way he’d intended “Company” from the start.

        I love most of Sondheim’s work, but find his comments on it less than ideally enlightening a lot of the time, particularly lately, during this Living Saint period he’s in. His opinions on the quality of some of the revivals we’ve seen leaves me feeling like I’d like best for him to be quiet.

        • Harry

          Pelleas: That comment about ‘as the best he’s ever seen’ comment attributed to Sondheim can be also connected with Lloyd Webber. Whenever he toured to see the latest opened taste sample of one of his Heinz 57 varieties of musical Baked Beans shows, around the World, he used this P.R tactic.

  • Kristin Scott-Thomas injured her foot

    Ah, a lame excuse.

    • LOL! who’d ever thought this woman would make breaking your foot not a good excuse to cancel:

      • This must be one of the most courageous and yet deliciously funny appearances in opera, ever. La Malibran all over again. Brava la Donato!

    • Ah, but did she really injure her foot? Or did she cancel because she was told she was too fat/had an affair with the baritone/split from her husband who’s in the cast/couldn’t learn the role/lost her high notes/had a nervous breakdown/went to rehab?

      • mrmyster

        Sanford, it’s known as the Brewer Syndrome.

  • I checked things and apparently the very same Covent Garden production was filmed 4 years earlier with DiDonato and different male singers. How I wish they’d release both together. But it will never happen.

    This is the lesson scene, 2005

    And here’s the (unfortunate) wheelchair version, where more of the action is probably improvised on the spot!

    • I had no idea it was filmed in an earlier incarnation. I agree, i wish some opera houses would just create collector editions of some of their productions that they otherwise would not release. Imagine this:

      Don Giovanni from the Met: We get all 3 telecasts of the performances from the Met: Morris, Ramey and Terfell

      Otello from the Met: We get the Vickers and both telecasts with Domingo

      Barbiere from CG: the 2 diDonato perfs and whatever they still have in the vaults

      Freni in Chicago: We get the Tatyana and Margerite

      There is so much languishing in the vaults and with so little hope of ever seeing the light of the streets…

      • And while we’re there, let’s have some really fine French television productions filmed either in Aix or Orange, which were shamefully preserved in mono.

        Zauberflote -- Aix. Dessay, Mannion, Blochwitz, Scharinger, Christie

        Elektra -- Orange. Jones, Rysanek, Connell, Janowski.

        Romeo et Juliette -- Orange. Alagna, Gheorghiu, forgot the others.

        La Boheme -- Alagna, Gheorghiu, ditto.

        Carmen -- Uria Monzon, Larin. Plasson.

        Norma -- Papian, Ganassi, Farina. Probably the best Norma of the last 20 years or so.

        Oh so many others. From the Met I’d like the Forza with Sweet et al, one of her best nights. I know it was lowered for Domingo, but nevertheless..
        Also, the Pique Dame with Gorchakova. I know, the same Domingo problem, but the cast is fabulous, not the least for Hvorostovski and Soederstroem as the Countess.

        I would also like to have on DVD the Gardiner Zauberflote (which I have on a commercial cassette) and Giovanni. Both great productions without any sceney whatsoever.

        And a commendatore scene which manages to be both geniunely funny and chilling at the same time

        We get so much Giovanni crap on commercial DVD, why not this???

        • That carmen with Uria Monzon and Laris is a great performance. I have a copy of it. Ditto for the Boheme and R&J. I have copies from trades and they are great performances. I agree they should be released. Along with the Trovatores with Caballe and Susan Neves, Last year’s Cav and Pav were great productions too, Bobby Alagna sang quite well on both roles. A good remaster of the Tristan with Vickers and Nilsson would be most welcomed too.

        • scifisci

          Lindoro, may I ask where one can get a copy of those performances on DVD?

        • Well there are actually two Larin Monzon Carmens, one from Orange and the other from Opera de Batille. Quite forgot who conducts the Bastille performance, but the Orange has Plasson and is much, much better IMHO. I thought I’d find the quintet, alas no such luck.
          There’s also a 2004 broadcast with Monzon and Alagna under Whun Chung. The earlier one is more spontaneous.

        • Ah and let’s not forget what is perhaps my most coveted video of all : The 1976 (?) Macbeth premiere from La Scala under a demented Abbado with Verrett (enough said) and Cappuccilli. I have it on an atrocious DIVX. RAI should really take care of these videos and remaster them the way the BBC did for Glyndebourne. That Macbeth is a great, great night for the ages. And let’s have the Kleiber Otello too.

        • scifisci

          And the Strehler Boccanegra!

        • kashania

          I have the Kleiber Otello on a DVD that someone transferred from a TB broadcast. It is truly a performance for the ages and I would love to see it in a proper release. I had NO IDEA that a video of the Verrett/Capuccili/Abbado Macbetto existed. I’ve heard the audio thanks to La Cieca’s Unnatural Act and it is fabulous.

        • Dear Kashania,
          most Abbado La Scala premieres from the late 70s were televised, I think they used to broadcast those which opened the season. I believe most of these Jewels are safely reposing in the RAI vaults. Nobody cares about this kind of stuff anyway nowadays. Italians have other more pressing occupations, like television tits. One has only to go to La Scala to witness how deep Italian sensibility has sunk, they are only interested in high-notes pornography.

          So we have to console ourselves with these crude home-made VCR copies of the great nights of yore. See, listen, and marvel at what is, probably, one of the greatest Verdian nights of the 20th century, when the quest for dramatic druth reigned:

          httpv//www.youtube.com/watch?v=qK0fBaH_gfE&feature=related

        • I mean truth, of course ;)

          httpv//www.youtube.com/watch?v=qK0fBaH_gfE&feature=related

        • Wow, apparently a better version just resurfaced!!

        • kashania

          Mme C/F: Thank you so much for these clips. I can’t wait to watch them!

        • kashania

          Speaking of your namesake, have you heard this recording of Aida with Cerquetti and Guelfi? We just don’t have this kind of audience participation today. The audience goes crazy for Guelfi’s delivery of the curse to Aida and demands an encore right there in the middle of the duet. The conductor will have none of it and carries on with the scene, causing the audience to boo and jeer the rest of the duet. It’s extraordinary!

        • rapt

          Re Verrett’s Vieni, t’affretta--is there an emoticon for one’s mouth hanging open in awe? Thanks, CF!

        • Kashania dear, thanks SO MUCH for this great audio clip of an electrical performance.
          I know there are two recordings of Aida with La Cerquetti, but never got to hear them! So naturally I am very, very happy about this post!
          I still have to get the Cerquetti Guglielmo with DFD, the amazing Ballo with the horrible Poggi, and one of the Aidas.

          Nice to hear some traditional arena performances from the audience. Personally, I’d like to hear a bit more music :)

          My two favourite audience interventions come from La Scala: Trovatore 1952, after old Stignani delivers a stunning monologue (very much deserved) and, how banal but inescabaple, the uproar after the 1955 “amami, Alfredo” where Giulini and Callas conjure a storm between them.

        • scifisci

          I wish VAI or someone would remaster all those Scala telecasts--they really are gems, every single one. Also, all of the orange stuff from the early 70’s on. And why won’t they release the Delunsch louise from the bastille? As far as I know there aren’t any real competitors out there. Hopefully, someone is listening.

        • kashania

          Verrett is simply magnificent in these clips — both her singing and acting. And I love that the audience realises that they’ve heard about as great a “Vienni d’afretta” as they’re ever going to hear (with a repeat of the cabaletta!) and show their appreciation. Wow!

      • That’s one of the great things about The Met posting their archives online. Their goal is to post every radio broadcast, television b’cast and HD b’cast. The subscription is relatively inexpensive per month, and there is software out there that will allow capturing the video and/or audio.

        • Bill

          Gian Giacomo Guelfi I saw only once and he was extraordinary and absolutely brought the house down with his Gerard aria in Andrea Chenier in Vienna where he was a rare guest also as Amonasro, Scarpia and Jack Rance -- stupendous volume in 1965 with Stella as Maddalena and Hilde Konetzni as Madelon (who also received an ovation for her short scene.) The Chenier of that performance was Giuseppe Gismondo, quite forgetable. Gian Giacomo Guelfi (about whom Mrs. JC should surely have further comments) is not to be confused with Carlo Guelfi who has cropped up now and then this past decade much to many’s consternation.

      • MontyNostry

        That Guelfi Amonasro is, to use a British term of approbation, absolutely stonking. I was getting gooseflesh. Subtle it ain’t, but what a sound! And I love all the uproar.

        • MontyNostry

          Verrett is, indeed, stunning there. With a voice and presence like that, who needs Regie? I love her sweeping about in that big old-fashioned cloak and doing a bit of judicious semaphoring. (Yes, I know it is a legendary Strehler production, but it looks — in a good way — conventional.)

        • mrmyster

          And the diction! Words….there are words!
          Bravo, bravi!

  • Joyce will be hosting the Met Finals and Flicka will be singing! And it’s on my 50th birthday, no less (March 14th). I wish I could afford to go.

  • Jay

    Hunter Ryan Herdlika was a disaster as Henrik. Too whiney, his acting the other side of High School Musical.

    Leigh Ann Larkin’s “Miller’s Son” was boring; the song is supposed to the show’s 11:00 show stopper. It wasn’t.

    “A Weekend in the Country” is truncated and partly because of the reduced orchestra, the number was a pale fascimile what it should be.

    Angela was extraordinary and is the main reason to see the show. I liked Catherine Zeta-Jones’ acting but not most of her singing. Like many others who attempt the song, she flattened towards the end of “Send in the Clowns”.

    The Charlotte was another disaster. Hardly a patch on Randy Graff and others who I’ve seen in the role.

    Compared to the NYCO production with Sally Ann Howes and Regina Resnik that was broadcast on PBS(and which I periodically view), this revival is overall very weak tea. A NY Times article about Resnik and Mdme Armfeldt is at http://www.nytimes.com/1990/08/23/arts/for-regina-resnik-feisty-fun-in-city-opera-s-little-night-music.html?pagewanted=1

    I do totally agree re: prices. Way out of line!

  • danpatter

    Is it likely there will be a cast recording of this production? Or, better yet, a video release? Does anyone know? I keep checking Amazon, but nothing yet.

    • Gualtier M

      Video could be done by PBS of the last performance by this cast…which would be on April 4th if Angela doesn’t extend her contract.

      According to a thread on “All that Chat” the cast album was recorded on Monday, Jan. 4th. Here is the thread url:

      http://www.talkinbroadway.com/allthatchat/d.php?id=1812706

      Here is what the poster said: the recording is being done by a triumvirate of recording producers -- Nonesuch Records, P.S. Classics and Warner/Chappell who are Sondheim’s music publishers. Also it is rumored that Stevie himself contributed something tot he recording costs but that isn’t proven.

      Evidently unless you have a big hit new score or a big pop or movie star in the role, cast albums no longer make back their costs. Long time and a different world since “My Fair Lady” was a gold record for Columbia and Goddard Lieberson. This economic reality is why several superb concert reconstructions of shows by great composers done by “Encores” have not been preserved on CD. And unlike “Night Music” which has at least four other recordings, these shows have never been recorded before.

      • Gualtier M

        More info from Playbill.com on the recording which supposedly has an expanded orchestration:

        http://www.playbill.com/news/article/135612-A-Little-Night-Music-Cast-Album-Gets-Recorded-Jan-4

      • mrsjohnclaggart

        Yes, it is sad that the great, UTTERLY complete Carousel at Carnegie with Audra the Mac and Hugh the Jack conducted by the recently almost dead Slatkin with St. Luke’s (it had ALL the dance music and EVERY interlude in the original lush scorings) was not released say on 2 packed CDs. As it happens I have a DVD made by a gal pal, while I wept downstairs (Mrs. John Claggart is a sentimental old party and thinks Carousel has more to offer than Tosca and Turandot and when Audra Mac cried during Hugh Jack’s Soliloquy ALL wept).

        It is also sad that the DC Sondheim festival was not released on DVD. That did not stop a certain person from subscribing to a distribution of same but still ALL should have shared in intelligent and thoughtful productions, with some very good performances and an especially persuasive account of Merrily We Roll Along.

        • armerjacquino

          Do you know if there are any plans for the Sondheim 75th birthday concert from the Hollywood Bowl to be released on DVD, Mrs JC? Some wonderful stuff on youtube from that gig, including Audra and Vanessa Williams in the Tonight quintet, Anne Hathaway and Eric McCormick doing the ‘opening doors’ sequence from Merrily (with a cameo from someone rather special as an out-of-tune auditionee) and a very touching version of ‘Little Priest’ by the superannuated but sparky pairing of Lansbury and Cariou.

        • rapt

          I find Carousel a killer, too. And interestingly (well, interesting to ME, anyway!), Roberta Peters’s Julie Jordan is my favorite recording of hers.

        • mrsjohnclaggart

          Amerjacquino first of all congrats on making Parterre history. I was there!!! Though a magic trick disappeared my comment of the time which inspired your historical one, though not a nasty bit of frog that some spirit forced out of my old gouty fingers. I am not a morning person, though surely (and sometimes surly) a mourning one.

          I don’t think any of that Sondheim LA material will be released officially, though a certain person has several different shoots of that event, one a gift from someone. You’re right, it’s great and very emotional. These are important documents and it’s one further indication of the terrible priorities of our ‘culture’ that they cannot be made available in good copies. I think in all cases it is not performers and certainly not creators holding up release. There are some union and venue issues but frankly, it’s the feeling that these would not be profitable, with profit defined in blockbuster terms — a mentality that would pretty much have destroyed most of the classical and much of the musical theater and jazz recording of the 20th century.

  • skoc211

    Haven’t had the chance to see this new production, but Dame Judi Dench is still my favorite Desiree.

    • MontyNostry

      I saw Dench as Desiree and I thought she was hopelessly miscast and she fatally hammed up Send in the Clowns. Sian Phillips as her mother had more allure.

      • armerjacquino

        I thought Dench was wonderful, but the production very poor. A great barn of a theatre like the Olivier is a silly place for ALNM anyway.

        • MontyNostry

          … and Issy van Randwyck (?) was far too posh Petra. She’d be more interested in marrying the merchant banker’s son.

          Sorry, but I just don’t get Dench worship in general.

      • calaf47

        wow…I saw the NT Night Music twice..and thought Judi Dench was one of the best Desirees I’ve ever seen..both acting and singing.

  • MontyNostry

    A Little Night Music isn’t the only interesting thing on the schedule at the Chatelet in Paris … Grace Bumbry features in Joplin’s Treemonisha (!) and there is a Norma with authentic instruments, directed by Peter Mussbach and starring Georgian-American Lina Tetriani.