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NY Theater Reviews

Angela Lansbury, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Keaton Whittaker/ Ph: Joan Marcus



Stephen Sondheim's luscious score enhances this revival. And director Trevor Nunn has made sure that the performers act the songs, and not just sing them.

A Little Night Music, the revival of the 1973 Tony-winner, is playing the Walter Kerr Theatre, usually the home for intimate plays. The money usually spent on sets has instead gone to stars Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury, respectively playing actress Desiree Armfeldt and her mother, a former Swedish beauty who knew enough to take advantage of her looks when she had them.
Desiree was once the lover of lawyer Fredrik Egerman (Alexander Hanson), who’s since married Anne (Ramona Mallory), a teenager who – 11 months into the marriage – hasn’t yet given herself sexually to him. That drives Frederik back to Desiree, who hasn’t been sleeping alone; she’s having an affair with Carl-Magnus (Aaron Lazar), though he’s married to the long-suffering Charlotte (Erin Davie).
Hugh Wheeler's  book, then, solidly follows its source, the 1955 Ingmar Bergman film Smiles of a Summer Night.  Enhancing it is Stephen Sondheim’s luscious score that includes “Send in the Clowns.”
Sondheim is famous for his tricky, lickety-split lyrics, so musical director Tom Murray slows the tempi so we can better appreciate the words. They’re smart, funny, and incisive, so the extra time is well-spent in this nearly-three-hour Night Music. Audiences laughed harder than usual at the lyrics, for they could hear and understand them.
Zeta-Jones may not convince anyone that she’s living in turn-of-the-last-century Sweden, but she does provide a lovely presence. Though she seems to be giving a performance reminiscent of those once found in summer stock, Desiree is supposed to be a provincial actress. Lansbury is magnificent as the woman who was once mistress to the rich and powerful, but has aged to become an oh-so-grand dowager. Yet as imperious as Lansbury can be, she allows room for the scene where she tenderly ruminates on the man she might have married, but dismissed on a technicality.
Director Trevor Nunn has seen to it that his performers act the songs, and not just sing them. Thus, Hanson and Lazar make greater impressions than their forbears made in the roles (and they have better singing voices, too). Hanson looks especially embarrassed at becoming just another middle-aged man who convinced himself that he wasn’t as old as he thought, and deserves a young wife. Lazar has the bravado and bluster but enough self-awareness as well to wonder if his mistress is cheating on him. Davie is a much more vulnerable cuckquean (that’s a feminine cuckold) than is usually seen in this show, and that makes sense; a strong Charlotte would leave the bum.
But Ramona Mallory overdoes the girlish silliness in portraying Anne. You’d think she would have got some help from home – given that her mother, Victoria Mallory, originated the role. She’s the one annoyance in an otherwise acceptable production.