Cher Public

The ladies who liaise

stritch_armfeltOur own JJ (not pictured) revisits A Little Night Music, and who should be inhabiting that chateau extravagantly overstaffed but Elaine Stritch? [Capital New York]

  • This cast change is spurring talk (yet again) that there should be a Tony category for replacement casts. NY1 loved it, too. And anyone would be better than Catherine Zeta-Jones-Hepburn.

    • Gualtier M

      Sanford, if you saw Catherine Zeta-Jones as Desiree on the Tony Awards telecast, you didn’t really see her in the role. I saw her and Lansbury back in early April, CZJ’s first performance just back from vacation. She actually was very touching in “Send in the Clowns”. She also had a good alto voice -- a little rough but effective. At the Tony’s she was nervous, exhausted and suffering from laryngitis so she had to shout every line to get the voice out. It was a horrible mess.

      In the actual full show, Zeta-Jones’ real problem was that she looked absolutely gorgeous onstage -- you really didn’t believe this was her last chance at love. Zeta-Jones’ Desiree could hit the street and have her pick of men. This was a woman still in her absolute prime.

      • Actually, Gualtier, I found Z-J’s beauty no hindrance at all: the point is not that she could have her pick of men, but rather that there was only one man (Fredrik) who really interested her. So his rejection of her in the “Send in the Clowns” scene wasn’t the sentimental melodrama of “now I am too old to be loved” but the more personal tragedy of “why did it take me so long to realize what I wanted?”

        If Zeta-Jones ever got her voice into working order (and, presumably, if she wanted to such a thing) I think she could make a very striking Madame Rose. She certainly has the right kind of hungry brash energy.

        • Gualtier M

          Cieca, I loved this review -- mainly because of the space this journal gave you to expand and expound on the subject.

          Hugh Wheeler’s book also makes the mistake of turning Anne into an idiot. Harriet Jacobsson in the Bergman film is a tender young beauty on the brink. Desiree is also closer to the Zeta-Jones type -- a woman in her thirties who is not a fading flower but a rose in full bloom. I think Bergman is right in having the women evenly matched.

          Ramona Mallory (who I think has talent but is misdirected) went from elegant hoity-toity ingenue to goofy gamine with little preparation. I guess Nunn’s idea is that Anne is really a little girl pretending to be a grown up. If I was playing the role (and you are all lucky I am not) I would play her as a younger Nora in “A Doll’s House” -- a troubled, romantic desperate young woman on the brink who is playing the toy wife to keep her husband at bay. “Look at me prattle, I am just a silly little girl -- you can’t try to actually have sex with me, you old…I mean dear man?” Dancing as fast as she can to keep from giving in to the compromises she made in marrying Fredrik who she doesn’t really love in a romantic way. Holding out for the dream by not really becoming a wife.

          Wheeler makes her into a silly ditz and Mallory’s goofy comic persona highlights the bad writing.

  • Orlando Furioso

    I’d love to know where JJ found a copy of the 1973-issue cast recording that contained “Night Waltz II.” (It was recorded, but omitted, and turned up only [if memory serves] in 1980s reissues and compilations.)

    I suppose I’ll have to catch this iteration for its iconic value (I do think the Hugh Wheeler book is, line by line, one of the most witless ever concocted for something that’s supposed to be “elegant and literate”).

    If we’re whipping it out and comparing, my Desirées seen in person are (student performances aside): Glynis Johns, Jean Simmons, Sally Ann Howes, Blair Brown, Michele Pawk, Juliet Stevenson, and Barbara Robertson.

    And their respective mothers: Hermione Gingold, Margaret Hamilton, Regina Resnik, Barbara Bryne, Irene Worth, Claire Bloom, and Helen Ryan.

    I would call Stevenson overall the best Desirée I’ve seen, and Robertson (Chicago Shakespeare) definitely the worst.

    Mme A. is harder, with Gingold’s stamp, as noted, so much on the role. Claire Bloom (NYCO-2) was the weakest, poor thing — she should never have agreed to do it. But the one who got all the jokes and character points, while doing justice to the song and convincing me that she was once a supremely successful courtesan, was Helen Ryan (Chicago Shakes again, an Equity-tradeoff find, otherwise apparently a mainstay of Brit TV).

    • I would love to check my old copy of the OBC for you, but, well, you know what happened to it. I probably misremember the track titles after all this time and as far as I recall the next time I owned that recording it was on CD.

      Total agreement with you about the Wheeler, but it wasn’t until this most recent exposure with a particularly self-indulgent Charlotte (in act 2) that the “Midsummer Madness” connection was quite so blatant. What I don’t get is how Patrick Dennis would send up this kind of dialogue way back in 1955, but in 1973 a whole gay production team can let exactly the same arch tripe pass for wit.

      • Nemorinopr

        Beautiful review, and, oh!…what memories!!
        Thanks, Doña Cieca.

        • Orlando Furioso

          No sweat, Cieca — I suspected something similar to what you describe, and was just indicating in passing the cussedness of writing from memory, that we inevitably choose the one impossible example to illustrate our point! (I’ve done it.)

          Purist though I am, I would be greatly tempted to amend some of Wheeler’s worst ideas in performance — at least allowing poor Fredrika to have one bosom rather than two, and trimming some of the most egregious of the phallic “jokes.” Nothing can be done, I guess, about one of his most unbelievable bits: “CHARLOTTE: How could anyone be happy to meet me? [EXIT]” The worst exit line in theatrical history?

          If a Charlotte is any good, she should walk away with all the laughs without trying (in fact, the not trying is rather important); she gets the bitchy lines deflating everyone else. Patricia Elliott was great with them of course, as was Randy Graff, and Diana Rigg was the only sign of life in the movie.

  • What a charming review. You’ve got me excited to go see this again. With these two ladies in the cast, I can only imagine what this show could be if the producers had spent the money to, say, hire a real orchestra or build some sets!

  • Gualtier M

    BTW: Cieca when did you catch this cast? Elaine Stritch gave a Playbill interview just before previews (she started July 15th) that you can read here:

    She was frank that she didn’t feel ready to go on yet -- she didn’t have enough rehearsal. It seems that our gal Elaine was doing Sondheim revues right up until she began her run in “Night Music”. So the first week became this “which lines will Stritchie forget tonight”? On the Broadway chat boards certain supercilious queens were demanding she resign from the part. Girl is 85, you *ssh*les! Give her a break! They were equally bitchy to Angela Lansbury who also was struggling the first weeks (and was line and note perfect at my performance). In fact, Lansbury was a little too slick, doing some easy comic old lady shtick though it was high style shtick done by a past mistress of the art.

    Anyway, I have been waiting to see this cast until I hear that Elaine has settled in and is on top of it. Daily reports come in at “All That Chat” about “she was perfect at the matinee” and then “she went up three or four times in the evening show but covered beautifully”. The overall tone is positive.

    My only quibble about Elaine as Armfeldt (not based on seeing the show but video clips on the internet) is that she misses the faux aristocrat veneer necessary for a top echelon courtesan. A woman who serviced kings would have had the manners of a duchess, very expensively and carefully acquired through training. Cf: Aunt Alicia in “Gigi”. If Elaine is doing her Stritchie gravel voiced, salt of the earth, woman of people persona then she is missing something crucial. It is not necessarily a British accent (silly in a show set in Sweden) but a manner of speaking. A high toned upper-class American accent would work. Stritch herself comes from a moneyed family with a Cardinal as an uncle. She has breeding even if she is probably the black sheep of the family.

    • I saw the show August 5, last Thursday, several days past its official “opening” when reviewers published.

      I disagree about the aristocratic veneer. It certainly is consistent with her former career, but part of what Stritch brought to the role was the idea of the lifelong bachelor woman as egoist. In other words, because Madame Armfelt never pursued a longtime romantic relationship, she never had to learn the skills of sincere compromise, tolerance of other people’s foibles and what we might call “being a good colleague” in the interpersonal sense. She has the money and the power to live her life just as she pleases, which means that when she feels like it she can put on aristocratic airs, but other times she can be downright rude. All because she can get away with it, because she’s a lifelong loner and really has no need to please anyone but herself.

      Like I say, the “manners of a duchess” approach is quite valid, but Stritch’s testy old woman angle is also supported by the text. It’s quite funny (for a change) to hear those artificial Wheeler locutions spat out with utter contempt, as if to say, “Be glad I’m even taking the trouble so say this nonsense; I’m sure as hell not going to put any energy into pretending I mean it.”

      See also Mary Astor’s performance as Jewel Mayhew.

      • Harry

        La Cieca:”Like I say, the “manners of a duchess” approach is quite valid, but Stritch’s testy old woman angle is also supported by the text”.

        But… is not Madame Armfelt in Liasons annoyed that the young ones have no sense of taste, judgment, class, polish and manners in going about their lives? What other reason does she have to sing it? Though she was once a ‘discreet’ courtesan, how else would she have plied her trade in the upper class surroundings. By luck, having known several people that were once ‘the quiet and regular companions’ of top internationally known leaders in politics, that is the only conclusion I can reach. Knowing how and when to dot the ‘i’s’ and cross their ‘ t’s ‘

        Liasons is the ‘reveal’ moment in Little Night Music ..a metaphor for the way others around her are ‘fu*king up their lives’ as time passes. They too, could be left with nothing but memories.

        And yes, the thought of seeing A Little NIght Music without a full size orchestra feels me with utter dread. Last year I saw a full compliment orchestra production. Shows like that, belong in the MET in their ‘lay off’ season ( even if amplified!)… might make sorely needed money that Gelb is looking for. Elsewhere in the World, Opera houses do this….and people do not think it detracts from ‘the main brand’ at all.

  • pernille

    Slightly off topic.
    For those who can sneak away to listen to Rai3’s Pesaro festival transmission -- run, don’t walk it started at 2 pm Eastern.
    There’s some mighty fine singing. Don’t get me started on the plot.
    Thanks to APT’s “heads up” from a post on Saturday.
    The microphones are very well placed in this transmission btw.

  • parpignol

    wonderful essay on the words “oh, yes”--
    and I do remember watching Gingold from the last row of the Shubert (?) in the 1970s. . . but, after all these years, and after so many singings of Send in the Clowns, I’m still carrying the torch for Glynis Johns; what a presence she was on stage!

    • Did she keep the flask hidden throughout :)

  • Donna Anna

    A superb review and a great remembrance of wearing out the LP--mine long since has worn away. Saw it in preview in Boston when I was a college student and felt as if I’d grown up. I disagree with your assessment of The Miller’s Son. Sondheim captured my young (really young) woman’s dream of the man I’d marry.(I didn’t marry the Prince of Wales but I didn’t wind up with the miller’s son, either.) Sounds like a weekend in the City is in order.

    • A weekend in the city, how delightful, how incredibly droll.

      My mother always insisted that Sondheim never wrote a singable song (and, apparently, Send In The Clowns didn’t matter). I, however, can sing any number of them off the top of my head. I love Night Music (and I loved the NYCO production with Howes, Resnik and the gifted Danielle Ferland -also great in Into The Woods -- which I have on my ‘puter. I adore Patricia Elliott singing Every Day A Little Death. But also, I remember the first time I heard Carly Simon sing Not A Day Goes By (from Merrily We Roll ALong, which starred another One Life To Live actress, Mary Gordon Murray (Becky Buchanan. Patricia Elliott is Renee Devine).

      And of course, Forum, Gypsy (Jule Styne’s music, but oh, what lyrics), and Company

  • OpinionatedNeophyte

    La Cieca great review, but I disagree that its too late to complain about the orchestrations in this revival. I thought the severely stripped and on stage down pit in the Sweeney Todd revival was completely appropriate for the story, compelling even. But a mini orchestra for a musical thats supposed to be Sondheim’s Rosenkavalier? WTF? It’s a hot ass mess, at least on the revival cast recording. Once I had heard what they had done to the opening strains of Weekend In The Country I had to put on the original. It’s also not so good when the strongest male voice in a cast of A Little Night Music is Henrik. I’d still go see it for Stritch and Peters, but I’m still overall mightily dissapointed in this revival, especially since I feel Zeta Jones salary is part of why the orchestra was what it was, that could just be haterade I’m sipping though.

    • That may be part of the reason for the reduced orchestrations, but also, contracts for musicians aren’t what they were. Producers have steadily whittled away at the number of musicians in the pit, until a full orchestra, as in South Pacific, is a rarity. There is some reduction going on in a lot of shows. But I have to say, nothing is quite as thrilling as hearing an overture start. I saw Thoroughly Modern Milly, and it was amazing to sit in the theater and hear great music performed so well.

    • Harry

      OpinionatedNeophyte I might be an rabid opera fanatic but I will own up that I became one, via the Broadway path.Your comment “I thought the severely stripped and on stage down pit in the Sweeney Todd revival was completely appropriate for the story, compelling even” I disagree with. Sweeney Todd…I have lost count of the productions I have seen. It needs and demands the BIG orchestra…..just take ‘A Little Priest’ as one example. If it does not have those big swaggering all knowing sound punch line ‘swamping wallops’ from the orchestra….it falls flat.

      Sweeney: if one studies the music carefully is much more extremely ingenious that one first thinks. Take that whirling Waltz rhythm as Mrs Lovatt nervously exclaims “Oh! Mr Todd… Oh! Mr Todd” as Sweeney dances with her before he shoves her in the oven.The harmony is way off teetering almost into 12 tone territory, yet it harks back and mirrors her first ‘grisly intent seduction’ of Sweeney, much earlier in the Work.

      Years ago, I went to the revamp to of Sweet Charity….the re-scored overture started…..and I thought….W.T. F have they done to the music??!! It was a travesty even though the score is not first rate throughout.

  • SilvestriWoman

    I deeply hope Peters’ rendition shows up somewhere. Ever since I saw this on the Tony broadcast, I’ve felt it criminal that a production was never mounted for her before the voice was ruined by Victoria/Victoria.

    • Harry

      Silvestri Woman: ….”before the (Julie Andrews’!) voice was ruined by Victoria / Victoria”.

      For once someone has stated the truth. No person with a singing voice can do what Julie Andrews did, 8 times a week with their performing voice, changing vocal position ‘willy nilly’ as a performance progressed and the role required.
      In the previous film version she made….she had days, weeks even, to prepare for doing the same.

      The business that her voice was stuffed ‘having that vocal operation’ I believe… made good news copy. One only has to see the DVD of the Broadway version…notice her massive vocal break on that ‘run up the vocal scale, during the ‘Jazz Hot ‘ number.
      What is truly remarkable is the very long successful career, she indeed had. An attractive voice but not what one would call ‘exactly’ perfectly trained. Saying that, I do not want to take away anything from her, what she did achieve.

      • Buster

        I went to a couple of try-outs of Victor/Victoria at the Shubert Theatre. People were worried what would happen to her voice from the very beginning. Even in a small venue like the Shubert, you could see and hear how much effort Living in the Shadows took her, for example.

  • mrmyster

    I hear Peters was too teary and over-wrought; as to the
    above, for the first few measures I thought — great! But
    then she turns too ‘vocal,’ and starts remember her
    singing lessons, the mask the consonants and all that jazz.
    I want someone to half-talk, half-sing this piece. Why
    not do it the way the composer intended? He was pretty
    Stritch is a hard-boiled American broad, and she cannot
    play anything else; she does not have the technique or
    personality. Also, how about that highly electronic little
    ‘band’ (hardly that!), in the pit? Wont do!!
    Cieca, I wonder if Princeton Record Exchange has the LP
    you refer to? They don’t hunt for you, but if you know
    someone in Princeton to go look through the endless
    bins, betcha it might turn up. Maybe. Tried E-Bay?
    It’s OK to use E-Bay, Meg Whitman is no longer there.

    • Harry

      I’m going to be a bitch here…I have on my shelves a perfect vinyl mint copy of the Original Broadway Cast Recording on my shelves. Cost me only $2 when I brought it 30 years ago.

  • mrmyster

    “Tried” E-May is what I meant.

  • aloki miyeyi

    This new venue (to us) provides JJ with an expansive outlet for positively Shavian analysis. Bravo. Not that I do not admire the precision and economy of the Post postings.