Analysis: Peters and Stritch to replace Zeta-Jones and Lansbury in ‘Night Music’
In an anticipated announcement Monday, it was revealed that Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch will replace Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury in A Little Night Music, effective July 13. Zeta-Jones and Lansbury will depart the show June 20, and the production will take a three-week hiatus, during which the actresses will rehearse.
This casting news effectively saves this production from shuttering, as it had already marked June 20 as its closing day. Until this point, the show’s producers had wooed numerous A-list actresses to assume the roles (Gwyneth Paltrow and mother Blythe Danner, Debbie Reynolds), but with no talks coming to fruition. Yet Peters and Stritch’s commitments to the show are a well-deserved saving grace for a high quality production.
I wonder if Peters felt slighted when she began talks for the role, since she wasn’t the first approached, and the other attempts were well publicized. Peters will fit the role extremely well, which makes me question why the producers hadn’t asked her earlier. Although from their first attempts at a replacement, it is clear they were looking for more Hollywood power, and Peters has more Broadway clout to her name than from film. Regardless, I don’t think her name will perform poorly at the box office, as she’s become one of those Broadway legends that people flock to see.
It’s a tiny problem, but nevertheless, I don’t think the producers are nailing the age-thing right when it comes to casting Desiree in this production. The role is of an aging actress, and the catty women in the show make a small handful of comments highlighting that (planning to wear white so their youth will become even more pronounced next to hers). It kind of set my teeth on edge hearing Zeta-Jones being referred to as an “aging” actress—she’s 40 (and looks better than most woman of any age). Peters at 62 isn’t an aging actress; she’s, quite frankly. an older actress. It’s not going to hurt her portrayal much, but still, she doesn’t fit the intended age of Desiree. (Neither did Rex Harrison when he was playing Professor Higgins into his 80s, so let’s avert the sexist angle and just accept that they’re actors and they’re acting.)
Stritch fits the mold of what the producers wanted for the role of Desiree’s mother, Madame Armfeldt. Replacing Lansbury—a Broadway legend—she’s a Broadway legend herself, and at 85 (less than a year older than Lansbury), she’ll be a headliner that audiences will make sure to come out and see, since the “How many more chances will we have to see her?” factor is in play. However, Stritch is not the Madame Armfeldt type. Yes, the role is an old woman who is blunt about her views, but part of the Stritch brand is brashness. Although she can obviously put on a British accent (the story takes place in Sweden, but everyone in the production hearkens their characters from Britain), Stritch is a consummate loud-mouth American. I don’t see her pulling off the refined quality of Madame Armfeldt.
Despite Peters’ age and Stritch’s mouth that could get in the way of their performances, they are fine actresses and worthy replacements to this production, which is absolutely not deserving of ending later this month. In a production built around two huge female names, the supporting cast manages to break through loud and clear. Ramona Mallory is shrill and increasingly annoying (as exactly she has to be) as the way-too-young wife Anne. Erin Davie is the ultimate high-society bitch as Charlotte. Hunter Ryan Herdlicka is a scene-stealer with his comically morose take on Henrik. And Leigh Ann Larkin brings a fresh splash of feistiness to the buttoned-up characters as the maid Petra (and couldn’t be sexier when she sings “The Miller’s Son).
While the story is in desperate need of trimming (maybe even chopping—clocking in at three hours) and Trevor Nunn’s direction becomes terribly stagnant during some scenes, this revival of A Little Night Music has gorgeous production value in the lighting, scenery, costumes, and orchestration. Harley T A Kemp dares to light some scenes of the show darker than is normal on Broadway, and it gives the story a wonderful romantic and rich look. The scenery is sparse, but what does exist on stage is so elegantly crafted by David Farley, as are his designs for the costumes. Pulling the darkness of Kemp’s lighting together are the deep, moody rolls of the cello, abundantly used in Jason Carr’s orchestrations. Night Music’s score is more complex and rich than most currently heard on Broadway.
Casting Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury in this show was extremely exciting news. Yet upon seeing that they weren’t the only gems of this production, Night Music’s renewal with Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch is most welcome.
What do you think, Rushers? Do you think Peters and Stritch suit these roles? Do you think Peters is too old for Desiree, or that Stritch might be too brash for Madame Armfeldt? And did anyone else notice the connection between Leigh Ann Larkin and Peters—them both having played in recent revivals of Gypsy, but different productions? Larkin played Rose’s daughter June in the 2008 revival and Peters played Rose in the 2004 revival. I guess we could say she’s her mother from another production? Leave it in the comments!