The trend this season has been to employ mega movie and television stars to insure that the receipts of the box office overflow with profits and to bolster up the production, just in case the production doesn’t come up to snuff, so that the paying public gets its money’s worth.
And so it is with the Stephen Sondheim, Hugh Wheeler bitter sweet musical, A Little Night Music which has been transported from The Menier Chocolate Factory in Britain to our shores starring the beautiful Catherine Zeta-Jones and the indomitable Angela Lansbury. It’s an uneven production at best.
Scaled down to chamber musical size and sound the evening starts with a sullen cello solo. The cast slowly enters the dimly lit stage (which rarely gets much brighter) and proceeds to waltz in the semi dark. As directed by Trevor Nunn we immediately begin to wonder if this somber, slow moving, snooze inducing with some sex and schnapps thrown in and about as subtle as a sledgehammer concept is going to work. You be the judge.
Based on an Ingmar Bergman film, Smiles of a Summer Night, this Sondheim and Wheeler concoction is a sophisticated, witty and haunting look into the lives and loves of a group of early twentieth century Swedish citizens in three-quarter time.
Lost youth and lost love are remembered. Wives and mistresses commiserate. Repressed sexual desire ferments. Sexual antics abound during a weekend in the country. Everyone seemingly involved with the wrong person.
Fredrik (Alexander Hanson, a fine sexual specimen of a leading man with an excellent voice who can act) is still enamored of actress Desiree Armfeldt (a gorgeous to look at Catherine Zeta-Jones who sings well and holds her own in her Broadway debut) while being married to the very young and still virginal Anne (a shrill but beautiful Ramona Mallory) who has feelings for Fredrik’s sullen son Henrik (Hunter Ryan Herdlicka) and vice versa. Petra the maid (Leigh Ann Larkin) has feelings for just about every man available. Desiree is mistress to a hunky, well endowed Dragoon (An excellent Aaron Lazar who lights up the stage whenever he is on it). His put upon and unhappy wife, the Countess Malcolm (a fine Erin Davie) is caught somewhere in the middle of all this. Madame Armfeldt (deliciously played with consummate artistry by Angela Lansbury) who has been there and back a couple of times sheds light (literally and figuratively) on all these affairs of amour. As the granddaughter Fredrika Armfeldt Katherine Leigh Doherty is probably one of the finer actors on stage – she shares the role with Keaton Whittaker.
But it’s a very long evening. Without much spark or illumination. With acting styles that vary from naturalistic to caricature to music hall turns. Although Ms. Zeta-Jones is a stunning woman with vintage Hollywood star allure and does an “I’m ready for my close-up” rendition of “Send in the Clowns” is her performance, rather her star power, enough to keep this show afloat? Even with the added bonus of having Angela Lansbury dispensing her wisdom and witticisms and the sumptuous Sondheim score which sounds very thin here we are left in the dark as to the future of A Little Night Music.
At the Walter Kerr Theatre. www.nightmusiconbroadway.com