The reason to re-review A Little Night Music is obviously the replacement of Hollywood royalty Catherine Zeta-Jones (far better in the show itself than her nervous Tony performance) with Broadway royalty Bernadette Peters. Bernadette has taken over the role of glamorous Swedish actress Desirée Armfeldt, who is renewing a romantic entanglement with lawyer Fredrik Egerman (Alexander Hanson) after many years apart. This is easily my favorite Peters performance of all time. Her ease and wry comic timing bring a delicious sparkle and flash, not just to the role, but the show as a whole.
The casting of Elaine Stritch as Madame Armfeldt, Desirée’s former courtesan of a mother, is more tricky. There’s nothing European, let alone Scandanavian, about Stritch’s Madame; she’s an American-style “broad” pure and simple. That aside, she does give us a performance that’s consistently entertaining, and does something interesting (if not always appropriate) with every moment of Madame’s big song “Liaisons.” Still, age and experience singing Sondheim aside, Strich is fundamentally odd in the role.
This musical, set in the very earliest years of 20th century Sweden, is as optimistically romantic as Stephen Sondheim ever got. Even here there are generous helpings of his wry cynicism, but never enough to truly darken the sweetly swooning mood. Director Trevor Nunn has taken Sondheim and book writer Hugh Wheeler at their words, going directly for the sharp humor and heartache that are right there on the surface. Nunn has given Night Music a warmly emotional reading that I find seductive.
Most of the original Broadway cast remains, and my favorite perfomance in the show is still Erin Davie as the tart-tongued Countess Charlotte. Already hilariously high-strung and eccentric when I saw her before, she’s added a peculiar warmth that makes the Countess even more compelling. Night Music is probably the Sondheim show I like the most throughout, and it’s a real pleasure to see this solid and good-humored production continuing to prosper on Broadway.
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