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Perhaps if We All Wish Very Hard for a Reprint,
This review is from: A Little Night Music (Audio CD)"Royal National Theatre's A Little Night Music," (1996) is a CD that has long been out of print; is rare, hard to find, and expensive when you do. This is a pity, as it's a fine recording of a superb production that opened in London on September 26, 1995, at The Olivier Theatre. We are talking, of course, about a musical play, some would say operetta, as it's all in ¾ waltz time, by uber-talented Broadway tunesmith Stephen Sondheim that is viewed as one of his greatest by most critics. It is based on Ingmar Bergman's film Smiles Of A Summer Night  [DVD] ; the libretto was adapted by the British-born playwright Hugh Wheeler; Sondheim wrote both music and lyrics. As directed by the famous Hal Prince, it opened in Boston on January 23, 1973, and ran at Broadway's Shubert Theatre for seventeen months and 601 performances. It debuted in London in 1975. There was also rather a disastrous movie made of the play in 1977, (A Little Night Music [VHS] )starring Elizabeth Taylor and Diana Rigg, among others; it was also directed by Prince.
The tale, which director Prince described as "whipped cream with knives" in a much-repeated quote, takes us to Sweden at the turn of the twentieth century. Here we meet some muddled, unhappy people. Fredrik Egerman, a middle-aged, successful, widowed lawyer, has remarried, to Anne, who is younger than his son Henrik. The marriage remains unconsummated; and Fredrik has unfinished business with the beautiful actress/ courtesan Desiree Armfeldt. The play's best-known, most celebrated and recorded hit -- Sondheim's biggest hit, of course, is Desiree's "Send in the Clowns."
The original Broadway cast featured Hermione Gingold(Gigi 50th Anniversary [DVD] ) as Desiree's mother, retired courtesan Mme. Armfeldt, and Len Cariou as Fredrik: two good actors who can sing. But it was marred by Glynis Johns playing Desiree; she never had much voice, had even less left, and spoke, rather than sang "Clowns." Gingold decorated the original London cast again, where she was joined by Joss Ackland and Liz Robertson. But, unfortunately, Desiree was played by Jean Simmons, never a singer at the best of times.
The National's production combines movie and stage versions of "A Glamorous Life," one of Desiree's big songs, and restores a verse of "My Husband the Pig." It brings together a very strong cast: Sian Phillips (I Claudius - Complete BBC Series (5 Disc Box Set) [DVD] ) as Mme. Armfeldt, who makes her big song "Liaisons," everything it should be; a biting, angry meditation in a knowing, old woman's voice. And Dame Judi Dench(Notes On A Scandal [DVD] ;Iris [DVD] ) who also does well by the biting, funny "You Must Meet My Wife." The cynical "The Miller's Son," is another highlight, as always. And then there is Dench's "Clowns." It has never been done better, by any other artist, on stage or celluloid: it is acted, as well as sung, and is rueful, angry, in the context of the play. And when things take a turn for the better, its brief reprise brings an emotional arc to a soaring close. Perhaps if we all wish very hard for a reprint...