A rare and remarkable thing has happened to the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim's 1973 musical A Little Night Music (EW's original review) since the departure of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury in June. It's gotten better faster, funnier, and altogether more delightful. In June, Zeta-Jones won a well-deserved Tony for the role where she brought a certain Hollywood hauteur to adulterous actress Desiree Armfeldt that seemed to relax only during her second-act show-stopper, "Send in the Clowns." In the same role, Bernadette Peters turns in a performance that's much more relaxed and less distancing. She finds laughs in unlikely places in the script, and delivers her songs with characteristic nuance and natural musicality.
She's helped by an ensemble, virtually unchanged since last December, that has settled into its roles magnificently. Even performers who had seemed like weak links in the show's opening weeks I'm thinking of Ramona Mallory, in the tricky role of Anne, the virginal trophy wife of Desiree's now-middle-aged former lover Fredrik are now hitting their marks and finding hidden depths in their parts.
Of course, Zeta-Jones was not the only star to leave the production earlier this summer. Elaine Stritch has been wheeled in (literally) for the irreplaceable Angela Lansbury as Madame Armfeldt, Desiree's ancient and acerbic wheelchair-bound mother. Stritch is an old Sondheim hand, of course, and seems like a natural to play a bitchy woman of a certain age. But the actress hadn't quite mastered her lines at the performance I saw, and occasionally stooped to shtick to add unnecessary punch to her punchlines.
With time, I suspect that she too will get into the rhythm of director Trevor Nunn's smartly executed production. There was always something a little odd about making a star vehicle for Zeta-Jones out of a show that is very much an ensemble piece. A certain balance has been restored to A Little Night Music in its current incarnation. As the song goes: Isn't it rich! A-
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