Judi Dench sings "Send in the Clowns"

With the first-ever Broadway revival of A Little Night Music approaching its opening date, I’ve felt like revisiting all my various recordings and texts and video of previous productions. This one is a favorite. Dame Judi Dench won an Olivier Award for her triumphant performance as Desiree in the 1995 Royal National Theatre revival of A Little Night Music. The production, directed by Sean Mathias, ran for 11 months and co-starred Sian Philips as Madame Armfeldt and Laurence Guittard (the original Broadway Carl Magnus) as Fredrik. A cast album of this production was made, but it has been long out of print and goes for extraordinary amounts on Amazon and E-Bay. However, if you do get the chance to hear it, you will not be disappointed. Especially in Dench’s sublime portrayal, my second favorite next to originator Glynis Johns.

Here Dench appears on a British talkshow to promote the show and talks a little bit about the play and her character and the moments leading into “Send in the Clowns,” followed by a heartbreaking rendition of the song by the star. Enjoy:

A Little Price Gouging

The American Express exclusive pre-sale for A Little Night Music starts tomorrow and the Telecharge website has listed the prices for the upcoming first-ever Broadway revival of the romantic Sondheim classic. Telecharge has released the ticket price information on the upcoming tuner that stars Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury.

Tuesday – Thursday
Orchestra: $132.00
Mezzanine (Rows A-F): $132.00
Mezzanine (Rows G-J): $102.00
Balcony: $52.00

Friday – Sunday:
Orchestra: $137.00
Mezzanine (Rows A-F): $137.00
Mezzanine (Rows G-J): $107.00
Balcony: $57.00

Tuesday – Thursday:
Premium Seating: $277.00
Aisle Seating: $157.00 (May only be purchased in pairs.)

Friday, Saturday matinee, Sunday:
Premium Seating: $352.00
Aisle Seating: $162.00 (May only be purchased in pairs.)

Saturday evening:
Premium Seating: $377.00
Aisle Seating: $162.00 (May only be purchased in pairs.)

All prices include a $2.00 facility fee.

Well, I do love me some Night Music and I will get to see this one way or another. However, for a minimalist production (and an orchestra of SEVEN) I do feel that this is rather exorbitant ($102 for rear mezzanine…?) Granted you do have the headline making Broadway debut of Oscar winner Catherine Zeta-Jones, but her career since Chicago has been somewhat lacking. Angela Lansbury was the draw for Blithe Spirit, but that revival wasn’t asking for a first born or a kidney in exchange for the privilege. For this sort of money, I expect a lavish set, costumes and the full 26 pieces in the pit. The $52/57 seat at the Walter Kerr is in what my friend Noah terms “that balcony on top of Mount Everest.”

Though the “experts” are telling us we are heading out of the recession that doesn’t mean we are quite there yet. It’s nice to see a plethora of shows opening instead of posting closing notices like they were doing this time last year. However, that doesn’t mean that people can necessarily afford those higher prices for shows. Prices do go up, inflation happens, but this latest pricing is rather absurd. And you know what grinds my gears? The whole “aisle pair” thing. What about an individual with special needs who requires a single seat on the aisle? If ticket prices continue along these lines, theatre going for individuals like myself will become more and more of a luxury than a leisure. Discount codes have yet to be released, and no word yet on a student or general rush policy. Also, depending on how it sells it could also end up on TDF, so there’s hope yet.

However, while there’s the $2 facility fee that’s already included in the price there are also handling fees, service charges and in some cases, shipping fees. So add that to the ticket price. If there’s two of you, multiply it accordingly. Add dinner, travel fare, babysitter money. A night at the theatre seems to be becoming an increasingly upper class affair. It would be nice if the powers that be remembered us normal middle class folk. In the words of the formidable Madame Armfeldt, “Let us hope this lunacy is just…a trend.”

"Now as the sweet imbecilities tumble so lavishly onto her lap…"

Whenever I listen to the sublime original Broadway cast recording of A Little Night Music, I’m always impressed with how Stephen Sondheim establishes Fredrik Egerman in the musical’s first song. Fredrik is a middle-aged lawyer whose eleven month marriage to naive 18 year old Anne has gone unconsummated. During an afternoon nap he, in true lawyerly fashion, lists all the ways he can go about seducing his wife. (His impetuous but staid “Now” is countered in a few minutes by her “Soon”). His son Henrik interjects with “Later” and eventually all three motifs are weaved together in contrapuntal soliloquies. The English major in me has always been amazed at this patter section in which he vents his sexual frustrations by listing the books he can read to get her into the mood…

“Which leaves the suggestive,
But how to proceed?
Although she gets restive,
Perhaps I could read.
In view of her penchant
For something romantic,
De Sade is too trenchant
And Dickens too frantic,
And Stendhal would ruin
The plan of attack,
As there isn’t much blue in
The Red and the Black.
De Maupassant’s candour
Would cause her dismay,
The Brontes are grander
But not very gay,
Her taste is much blander,
I’m sorry to say,
But is Hans Christian Ander-
Sen ever risque?
Which eliminates A…”

Isn’t it rich…?

One of the worst kept secrets in recent months has been the casting of the first-ever Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim & Hugh Wheeler’s Tony winning A Little Night Music. Murmurs of Angela Lansbury as Madame Armfeldt have been swirling since the beginning of the summer (if not before) and the rest of the actors’ names have been leaked out at one point or another. Then last week, Michael Douglas let it slip on Live with Regis and Kelly that his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones would headlining as Desiree Armfeldt. (He immediately mused whether or not he was supposed to say anything).

Well, it’s been announced that the musical will open at the Walter Kerr Theatre on December 13, with previews starting November 24. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury will indeed headline the revival, as well as Aaron Lazar as Carl-Magnus, Erin Davie as Charlotte, Leigh Ann Larkin as Petra and the sole holdout from the Menier revival, Alexander Hanson, will reprise his Olivier-nominated turn as Fredrik for NY audiences.

All due respect to the headlining divas, but the most interesting piece of casting is that of Anne Egerman. The role is being portrayed by Ramona Mallory, who is taking on the role created by her mother, Victoria Mallory, in the original Broadway company. It doesn’t stop there: her father is Mark Lambert, who originated the role of Henrik.

I’m always grateful for the chance to see A Little Night Music, but had hoped that the original orchestrations would be reconsidered. The Menier production featured new charts by Jason Carr, who was responsible for eviscerating Sunday in the Park with George to a tinhorn and kazoo. (Hyperbole, yes, but it was the major flaw in that revival). I am loathe to think that Jonathan Tunick’s sumptuous orchestrations will be streamlined by a lesser talent for the sake of cost and size. But beggars can’t be choosers (though I realize I’ve personally yet to see a Sondheim revival on Broadway that used the superlative original orchestration). I quibble, but you know I’ll be there and how!

Tickets go on sale online starting October 17, the Walter Kerr box office opens on October 19. (And of course those with Amex can get them starting September 30).

"A Little Night Music" Revival Likely This Fall

The import of Trevor Nunn’s hit London revival of A Little Night Music looks like it might be back on track for an unspecified opening date in December. According to Playbill, a casting notice has gone out from producers specifying that all roles are open, though it insists that dates are “tentative.” The musical was last seen in NY this past January in a gala concert for the Roundabout Theatre Company starring the late Natasha Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave. Both actresses were poised to star in the planned full-scale revival until Richardson’s tragic death last month, when the production was put on hold. No official announcement has been made, but it appears from the casting call one might not be far behind. The article lists as producers: David Babani for Chocolate Factory Productions, Andrew Fell and the Frankel, Viertel, Baruch, Routh Group.

To Revive, or Not to Revive

South Pacific opened on Broadway in 1949, swept the theatre world by storm winning every award in sight (including the Pulitzer) and when it closed in 1954 wasn’t seen in an official Broadway revival until this year, where it rinsed and repeated the original, currently remaining one of the hottest tickets in town in spite of the other shows dropping like flies around town. This leads me to think on this boring night about the olderTony-winning Best Musicals that have yet to receive a revival on the Great White Way. (For intense purposes, I’ve left out those shows from Evita onward)

Applause. It received a failed revisal at the PaperMill Playhouse in 1996. It was also presented in its original form at Encores! which, in spite of a game if ailing Christine Ebersole, only highlighted the many flaws in the project. It’s presentation at Encores! was exactly the sort of return the show can muster – a full scale revival seems highly unlikely.

Bye Bye Birdie. Instead of a revival, Broadway was treated to the four performance bomb Bring Back Birdie in 1981, which brought back Chita Rivera (which proved that she was an ultimate pro who could still deliver a superlative star turn regardless of the vehicle) and fast-forwarded the story of Albert and Rosie by twenty years, with them approaching middle age and dealing with their teenage children. The original musical is a period satire of the national craze over Elvis Presley’s drafting. The score, by Strouse and Adams, is a mix of superlative character numbers and spot-on parodies of period rock and roll. The show has been seen in every high school in the country, was presented at Encores in 2004 and even had a television remake in the mid-90s. But no Rialto berth… hmm. There lies only one problem that I can think of: who could possibly fill Chita Rivera’s admittedly daunting shoes?

Fiorello! This charming biomusical about NY’s favorite Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia was a big success in 1959, tying for the Best Musical Tony with The Sound of Music and picking up a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, a rarity for a musical. The score was Bock and Harnick’s second Broadway entry after The Body Beautiful and put them on the map as a composing team of deft skill, craftmanship and an extraordinary ability to integrate song and scene and character (Fiddler on the Roof and especially She Loves Me further illustrate this point). This was hte first Encores! concert back in 1994, and would seem unlikely for a full-scale commercial revival; however it might prove a great entry from Roundabout (so long as they don’t reduce the orchestra or overhaul the book).

Hallelujah, Baby! Leslie Uggams starred in this concept musical about 200 years of African American history in the 1967. This Best Musical winner holds the distinction of being the show that got Jule Styne is one and only Tony award. Comden and Green did the lyrics; Arthur Laurents wrote the book and directed. The show is the second shortest running Best Musical (the winner of that dubious honor is Sondheim’s Passion), and most of the issues with the show have to do with its libretto (a time honored complaint). However it could soar with some considerable work from David Ives at Encores! with Anika Noni Rose.

A Little Night Music. One of the most enchanting Sondheim musicals, it is inexplicably the only one of his ground-breaking 70s works to not have a full-scale Broadway revival. Even Roundabout has plans to bring Merrily We Roll Along back within the next season or two. There is a London revival that is transferring to the West End for an extended run, but perhaps (and this is my hope) New York producers are waiting for the right time, the right star and all other stars to align for this show to come back. For years, there was talk of Glenn Close starring in a revival, though from what I understand that is no longer an option.

Redhead. Okay, this is one of the more obscure Best Musical winners. Many haven’t heard of it, but it was a decent-sized hit winning 8 Tonys in 1959, including two for stars Gwen Verdon and Richard Kiley. The musical, which was also Bob Fosse’s Broadway directorial debut, is a murder mystery musical about a Jack-the-Ripper type stalking ladies in and around the London waxworks museum. Even from the liner notes it’s apparent that the plot is a bit convoluted and the book not exactly up to par. Even if the book isn’t up to snuff, the score is pleasant if not top tier. This show is the definition of why we have the Encores! series. Perhaps one of these days, if they can find the right personality (Mara Davi? Charlotte d’Amboise? The ‘It’ Girl?), we can see this at the City Center.

Two Gentlemen of Verona. Probably better known as the show that won Best Musical over Follies, one of those decisions that still incites passionate reactions in the most emblazoned Follies enthusiasts. The show, a rock opera adaptation of the Shakespeare play, was a transfer from the Delacorte, written by Galt McDermott. It had a hit summer revival a couple years ago in the Park, but it doesn’t seem likely for a Broadway return. Perhaps the outdoor environment suits it best?

"Liaisons" – Regina Resnik

This is from the 1990 Live from Lincoln Center telecast of the NYCO A Little Night Music. Regina Resnik, a former mezzo-soprano with the Met takes on the role of Madame Armfeldt in a delightfully entertaining interpretation. I take great hesitance in putting up this clip merely because whoever put it together strangely chose to place the song (which is in the middle of the first act) after the lead-in to the act one finale, which is misleading and dramatically inaccurate. I’m working on getting a new one… so till then this will have to do… The song starts at 2:45 or so into the clip.