2009 Broadway Revival Cast

A Little Night Music [2009 Broadway Revival Cast]

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The commercial success of the initial Broadway production of A Little Night Music in 1973 makes it surprising that it took nearly 37 years for a revival to be mounted in late 2009, and, at that, a transfer (with some key casting changes) from a small-scale version first seen in London. Annotator Frank Rich (formerly the chief theater critic of The New York Times) suggests that the show's very conventionality (it is a straightforward romantic comedy and even has aspects of an old-fashioned Viennese operetta), in contrast to other musicals of composer Stephen Sondheim, may have worked against it; theater people may have shown greater interest in tackling more challenging and innovative works like Company and Sweeney Todd. But the makers of this version of A Little Night Music, led by stage director Trevor Nunn, here demonstrate that a seemingly conventional show can be surprisingly hard to get right, especially if you insist on trying to re-imagine it arbitrarily. The problems begin with the new orchestrations of Jason Carr for an ensemble of only 11 players. Carr seems determined to dispense with what worked in the first version and introduce elements that do not. Typical is his use of the bassoon, which is given a distractingly prominent line during "Liaisons" that competes with Angela Lansbury as she attempts to navigate the lyrics. On the other hand, Carr has nearly eliminated the familiar bassoon line from "Send in the Clowns," robbing the song of some of its pathos. This is consistent with the lack of delicacy with which Nunn apparently has directed the actors to perform. A Little Night Music, with its three-quarter-time tunes and Old World ambience, needs to be played lightly, but this cast is relentlessly heavy, broadly overplaying everywhere, as if the show were a knockabout farce instead of a weightless comedy. This comes out all the more obviously on record since the makers of the album have opted to include a lot of dialogue. (There's just enough to push the running time to 86 minutes and force the inclusion of a second CD, leading to a higher price for the package.) Like the singing performances, the dialogue comes off as stagey and artificial, lessening the overall impact. It doesn't help that the major roles are miscast, with film star Catherine Zeta-Jones basically phoning in her performance and Angela Lansbury never seeming exotic enough to justify her portrayal of Madame Armfeldt, who spends the whole show boasting of her lifetime of lucrative love affairs. Maybe people stayed away from doing a Broadway revival of A Little Night Music for so long because it seemed too easy; from the evidence of this recording, however, re-creating a success can be very difficult, especially if one opts to be different for the sake of being different.

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