Time for the reviews of A Little Night Music to start rolling in….
Scott Brown at New York Theatre: Trevor Nunn’s stunning, twilit, devastatingly good new production… Lansbury, who capsizes the theater with every roll of those outsize eyes, hurls mots from her throne like thunderbolts – not a single line lands askew…. Zeta-Jones – a tremendous presence here, in great voice – mates up with Hanson perfectly: they play Desiree and Frederik as extremely magnetic, fabulously charming, utterly empty people.
Roma Torre at NY1: Angela Lansbury’s performance as Madame Armfeldt is magnificent. She nails her lines with the precision and killer timing that’s likely to make her a contender for a sixth Tony Award. She also captures in Sondheim’s music and Hugh Wheeler’s book the overriding tone of the work – a profound sense of longing, regret and sensuality. She is well-matched by Zeta-Jones, making a flawless Broadway debut with a performance that is also destined for a Tony nod. She tackles this difficult role with a natural gusto that in effect seduces the audience. She’s warm, funny and captivatingly sensuous…. Trevor Nunn’s direction cut right to the soul of this work meticulously casting great voices all equally adept as actors. The complex material is well served by all of them. Other standouts include Aaron Lazar as the blustery Count Malcolm, and Ramona Mallory, playing Egerman’s much too young wife.
Erik Haagensen at Backstage: Nunn delivers… a persuasive and entertaining account of a great American musical…. The generally excellent company is led by three top-flight performances…. Zeta-Jones zeroes in on the fun Desiree and Fredrik had with each other during their affair. It makes for a unique and memorable creation, leading to a terrific “Send in the Clowns” notable not for its rue but for its self-laceration…. Hanson is every inch her equal…. Lansbury is…. more refined and less acerbic than the divine Hermione Gingold but no less authoritative and just as funny… and her final scene is deeply moving…. Nunn makes two missteps. His direction of Erin Davie…. (and) Hunter Ryan Herdlicka. David Farley’s simple unit set of blond paneling and antique mirrors that accommodate projections serves Nunn’s vision nicely, as do Farley’s monochromatic but stylish costumes.
Elysa Gardner at USA Today: Madame Armfeldt has aged beyond the latter concerns but enjoys reflecting on her experience… and Lansbury, in an incandescent performance, lets us savor her haughty wit and see the fading but still defiant life force behind it…. Zeta-Jones brings great warmth and vitality to the role and makes it easier to see why Desiree’s old lover, Fredrik — the male lead, played with suave brio by Alexander Hanson — would vie with a blustering dragoon for her affections. Zeta-Jones is less effective, though, at suggesting Desiree’s weary, rueful edges…. This might owe something to Nunn’s direction, as other performances here flirt with overzealousness.
Thom Geier at Entertainment Weekly: Zeta-Jones’ Hollywood glam buttresses the role’s necessary off-puttingness. And the actress pulls off the challenge, comfortably commanding the stage…. Her second-act rendition of ”Send in the Clowns” is an emotional tour de force not to be missed. Likewise, Angela Lansbury offers a master class in character acting as Desiree’s ancient mother, Madame Armfeldt, wringing out every poignant beat and punchline…. The energy tends to flag a bit whenever they’re not on stage.
David Finkle at Theatremania: In Trevor Nunn’s mostly effective Broadway revival…. (Catherine Zeta-Jones) does well by the play’s pathos and wit…. The reemergence of the tuner as a chamber musical… is a smart notion, well realized. Farley’s single-set unit… is sufficient, if perhaps a trifle colorless. Lansbury provides a depiction of a woman elegantly withdrawing from life that is a master class in characterization. So is her tragciomic rendition of the brilliant solo “Liaisons.” Indeed, no one should be surprised if the five-time Tony winner carries off that sixth spinning medallion next year.
Michael Sommers at New Jersey News Room: Catherine Zeta-Jones makes a smashing Broadway debut…. Staged more as a rueful comedy with music, this show unfolds quietly against a flexible setting of duskily mirrored panels that later opens to disclose a modest view of birch trees…. Zeta-Jones is handsomely partnered by Hanson…. Not everyone will enjoy the deliberate moodiness of this revival.
Robert Gannon at Hollywood Reporter: This uneven but welcome revival of Sondheim’s classic musical features a triumphant Broadway debut by Catherine Zeta-Jones…. Nunn’s minimalist approach contrasts sharply with Prince’s original opulent staging, with mixed results. There will be many who bemoan the visually drab sets… and monochromatic costumes…. On the other hand, this intimate version does a wonderful job of accentuating the emotional complexities and endlessly witty dialogue of Hugh Wheeler’s book… Lansbury uses her well-honed theatrical instincts to perfect effect as Madame Armfeldt, generating huge laughs with her expert delivery of the character’s piercing comic barbs.
David Rooney at Variety: Trevor Nunn brings a blunt, heavy hand where a glissando touch is required, but the wit and sophistication of the material are sufficient to withstand even this phlegmatic staging…. Bewitching, confident and utterly natural, [Catherine Zeta-Jones] breathes a refreshing earthiness and warm-blooded sensuality into [Desiree]…. But the production’s real jewel is Angela Lansbury as her worldly mother…. Hanson’s warm playfulness with Zeta-Jones gives real body to the central relationship…. What’s remarkable, given its unsatisfying elements, is that this Night Music still seduces…. The choice to refocus the show into a chamber piece was a smart one. But a director with a more intuitive feel for intimacy and subtlety would have made more sense.
Ben Brantley at The New York Times: An elegiac darkness infuses this production…. Mr. Wheeler’s book has always had a coarse side at odds with the intricacy and delicacy of Mr. Sondheim’s score…. Ms. Zeta-Jones brings a decent voice, a supple dancer’s body and a vulpine self-possession to her first appearance on Broadway…. Her Desirée, to be honest, is much like her Velma: earthy, eager and a tad vulgar, though without the homicidal rage and jealousy…. Such traits lend a not always appropriate edge of desperation to the droll Desirée…. Leigh Ann Larkin, as the earthy maid Petra, oversells the 11 o’clock number “The Miller’s Son,” a hymn to sex as a life force, with autoerotic gestures that suggest an audition for a pole-dancing position…. But there is only one moment in this production when all its elements cohere perfectly. That moment, halfway through the first act, belongs to Ms. Lansbury….
Matthew Murray at Talkin’ Broadway: Catherine Zeta-Jones, as the famed actress Desirée Armfeldt, and Angela Lansbury, as Desirée’s mother, instinctively understand and project what Nunn and most of the rest of his cast do not: This show is not a turgid, angry tragedy, but a saucy lark that’s all about celebrating, as someone sensibly sings, “everything passing by”…. If Zeta-Jones makes [Desiree] seem younger and cagier than the norm, she’s also quicker to hurt… “Send in the Clowns,” is darker and smokier than most renditions, but retains its power because it signals the heretofore ageless Desirée’s final, unwanted, and potentially disastrous descent into middle age…. Hanson, who originated Fredrik in this production in London, is so stodgy and unappealing…. Herdlicka is consistently whiny hissy-fitty…. Mallory is shrill on her lines…. Lazar and Davie should be in the show’s most unbreakable roles, but derive only a fraction of the characters’ laughs and musical pleasures…. One suspects that Nunn is downplaying the show’s musical values in order to amplify its intimacy… But contemplation of this molasses-in-Siberia sort goes against the very spirit of A Little Night Music.
John Simon at Bloomberg: The show is based on one of Ingmar Bergman’s masterpieces… but the libretto that Hugh Wheeler adapted from it is little more than hack work. There is, though, Sondheim’s great score to balance things out…. Lansbury is commanding as always, making Madame’s words, spoken and sung, resonate with multiple meanings. Epigrammatic crispness comes across not in the least recherche, as the wisdom of age seamlessly blends with ageless nostalgia. Zeta-Jones, on the other hand, is all artifice…. Words are delivered in a stilted rubato, oozing self-satisfaction, with affected facial expressions that are smug and patronizing…. What the set lacks, Nunn tries to make up for with business. Not so much stage movement as general heartiness, frolicsomeness, primping and posturing, inordinate onstage laughter and whatever it takes to goose elegant comedy into rude farce.
Michael Kuchwara at Associated Press: There are some lovely moments, most of them supplied by Angela Lansbury, but too much of this adult, sophisticated show… seems forced, boisterous and a little crude…. As Desiree’s mother, the luminous Lansbury is a wonder. She is just about perfect as the worldly wise Madame Armfeldt, a woman who has tasted all that life has to offer and still enjoys the remembrances – and cynicism – that goes with it. The 84-year-old actress does something extraordinary, too: her Madame Armfeldt progressively gets more frail as the evening progresses, subtly commenting on one of the musical’s more profound themes – the mortality of all, no matter what their station in life. The aging process has never been more eloquently put on display…. One of the joys in A Little Night Music always has been a quintet of singers who serve as a kind of melodic Greek chorus to the action. Dressed in black, they swirl elegantly across the shallow Kerr stage, adding a welcome sense of movement to a story that doesn’t require much choreography. Unfortunately, that sense of style is only fitfully present in this disappointing revival of A Little Night Music.
As expected, an ambiguous set of responses to the production. And even in the negative reviews, Angela Lansbury is singled out as being uniformly excellent. I’m pleased about that.