PLAYBILL ON (RE)-OPENING NIGHT: A Little Night Music — All Smiles on a Summer Night

By Harry Haun
02 Aug 2010

Leigh Ann Larkin and Hunter Ryan Herdlicka
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
It doesn't matter that the minute Stritch opens her mouth, you know you're not in Stockholm anymore — and, furthermore, will never be able to get there from here. What matters is that the timing of this infallible actress is still as Swiss-watch pure as ever. She is after the nuggets of life truths that this ancient hussy has accumulated along with her priceless knickknacks. She sometimes seems to be using a jackhammer to get at these truths or at least going a route no one has gone before. Certainly she goes at it the polar opposite of her Tony-nominated predecessor, Angela Lansbury, who opted for a high-end, refined approach to the character.

A co-star Stritch and Lansbury both shared, helped Stritch with this and other roles. In her own ingιnue days, she found herself manning the wheelchair of Dame May Whitty in a summer-stock production of Emlyn Williams' thriller, Night Must Fall. Left alone to her fate with a killer in the house, Whitty was required to say the name of the killer over and over again in every known gradation. "She must have said 'Danny' 16 times, and every time it was with a different kind of emotion," Stritch recalled. "I stood in the wings just watching, learning. I never will forget that."

That example gave her the gumption to go for — and get — an uncharted laugh in "Liaisons," her showstopper, by daring to mispronounce the title. "It's a hard song, musically and in every way to sell to an audience — to make them enjoy it the way they should." If Peters' "Send in the Clowns" removes the roof of the Walter Kerr, it's Stritch's "Liaisons" that loosens the screws. This is why they are Broadway stars.

Stritch's closing moments as Mme. Armfeldt are staged quite differently from Lansbury (by either Trevor Nunn or his assistant director), but neither holds a candle to the luminous image Vanessa Redgrave left in that one-night-only benefit she did with her daughter Natasha in January of 2009. They were planning a reprise for Roundabout at the time of Natasha's death. For all who did not see it, it still remains, hauntingly, The Little Night Music That Might Have Been.

Although he was Olivier-nominated for his lightweight sparring and sparking, the handsome 50-year-old Hanson is still the show's forgotten man, his commendable work upstaged by star wattage in the distaff department. He keeps the show on course, regardless of what Desiree crosses his path. There have been five, maybe six.

"There was Hannah Waddingham in London," he began his inventory, "then Catherine Zeta-Jones and now Bernadette Peters — but then also the understudies in between. So, there was Fiona in London, and there's Jayne Paterson here."

Since there is a heartening scene of welcome in which Desiree opens her dressing gown fully for his eyes only, it begs the question of whether there was ever a Desiree so obliging. He laughed at the suggestion, then a warm, wicked thought crossed his face. "Well, no one flashed me, but there was one who didn't wear a bra."

Save for Desiree's merciful ministrations, his character will have had two whole years of sexual inactivity. "I started rehearsals in London in September or October of 2008. I haven't counted the performances, but it's a lot — about ten months in London, including rehearsals and playing, and here since mid-October. I finish Oct. 3.

"The day after I finish here, I go into rehearsals for An Ideal Husband in London. I'll be playing opposite my wife. We've never worked together before, but we don't play man and wife — worse than that. She's my nemesis, so it could get ugly at home. My wife's Samantha Bond, who was last here in Amy's View with Judi Dench — a David Hare play — she was Amy."

The original Broadway cast continues in support of these two new clowns they've sent in. However, Lazar, who stepped out of the formation to make a very successful cabaret debut last week at Feinstein's, opted to take more vacation time and leave the re-reviews to his understudy, Bradley Dean. He may rue the day.