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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
BLITHE SPIRIT
at the Shubert Theatre

GOOD VIBRATIONS
By BILL STEVENSON

  Jayne Atkinson and Angela Lansbury/Ph:Robert J. Saferstein

As any Broadway aficionado knows, a star-studded cast doesn't guarantee that a production will be worth seeing. The good news is that the eagerly awaited revival of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit-featuring Angela Lansbury, Rupert Everett, and Christine Ebersole -is every bit as enjoyable as one might have hoped. Under Michael Blakemore's expert direction, the entire cast is terrific, making Coward's clever 1941 comedy feel utterly fresh.

All seven actors are perfect for their parts. Everett cuts a dashing figure as Charles Condomine, who lives with his second wife, Ruth (Jayne Atkinson), in Kent, England. Charles, a writer, has invited the psychic Madame Arcati (Lansbury) to conduct a seance in their living room. He invites Dr. and Mrs. Bradman (Simon Jones and Deborah Rush) to take part. None of them thinks the eccentric medium will be able to raise any spirits. But she does in fact summon the ghost of Charles' first wife, Elvira (Ebersole), who is visible only to Charles. The mischievous Elvira decides to stick around, flirt with Charles, and taunt the increasingly irritated Ruth.

It's hardly surprising that the actors are so at ease with Coward's witty banter. Everett starred in Coward's The Vortex in the West End, as well as in the film version of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband. Lansbury and Ebersole are best known for their Tony-winning roles in musicals (Mame and Grey Gardens, among many others), but each has done numerous plays, films, and TV shows. What is somewhat surprising is how adept the actors are at physical comedy. Lansbury does a delightfully loopy little dance when Madame Arcati starts trying to conjure up spirits. And Ebersole's Elvira has fun moving objects around the room with sweeping gestures to impress those who can't see her.

As the young and incompetent maid Edith, Susan Louise O'Connor gets some of the show's biggest laughs with her physical comedy. Edith tends to sprint, and when Charles or Ruth tells her to slow down she shuffles. O'Connor also has a great bit of business when she leans over a chair to lift a heavy tray.

Blakemore, whose lengthy credits include the original Broadway staging of the farce Noises Off, gives everyone in the cast scene-stealing moments. At times the pace could be picked up a bit, but overall there are very few dull moments in this spirited production. Even the scene changes are enjoyable, thanks to Ebersole's renditions of old standards like "Always." Martin Pakledinaz's costumes are sometimes stylish and other times amusing. The ridiculous hat he designed for Madame Arcati, which matches her equally silly dress, is hilarious without being too distracting. His diaphanous gowns for the ethereal Elvira are also just right. Peter J. Davison set appears to be a straightforward replica of a 1930s English drawing room. But even the set gets a chance to show off in the final scene.

 

Blithe Spirit is so well constructed that it holds up beautifully after all these years, even in amateur productions. In the hands of pros like Everett, Ebersole, and Atkinson-not to mention Broadway legend Lansbury-Coward's divine comedy takes flight. The result is that all-too-rare phenomenon: theatrical magic.

 


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