Tex and the City: Little Night Virus

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul heads out as Tex and the City to see if Catherine Zeta can Send in the Clowns

I’ve had an odd fascination with Catherine Zeta-Jones pelvis since Susan and I were forced to sit front row at a premiere of the hokey Sean Connery romantic thriller Entrapment.  We could barely keep from guffawing as we had a front row view of CZJ’s crotch as she slithered through infrared lights of a robber detection system.  So I made sure the tickets for A Little Night Music were a little further from the stage for fear of embarrassing myself.

Evidently, there’s a virus going around on Broadway—and it’s not the one affecting CZJ’s ability to perform in A Little Night Music.  It’s a series of show stealing performances by supporting cast—from Kate Finneran’s Act 2 tour-de-force in Promises, Promises to Robin De Jesus’ comic genius in La Cage aux Folles.  Now add to the list Leigh Ann Larkin in A Little Night Music.  While CZJ and the indomitable Angela Lansbury are getting all the buzz, this cracker jack blonde is reason enough to sit through a sometimes dowdy revival of one of Sondheim’s least toe-tapping shows.

While in Act I Larkin hints at her engaging sensibility, in Act 2 she lets loose in the 11 o’clock number The Miller’s Song, effectively erasing any previous memories of CZJ’s Send in the who?  In Larkin’s previous turn on Broadway she played Dainty June opposite Patti LuPone’s Gypsy, and I remember telling Chef then that she was hands down the most interesting Dainty June I had ever seen—layering her with a rich complexity way beyond what’s written in the show’s book.  She’s no one-hit wonder: Larkin does it again here, vamping about the stage with a sense of wild abandon that had me believing she literally might chew the scenery.

The design of the show is classic Trevor Nunn and London’s Menier Chocolate Factory from where this show as imported—cleverly minimalist with sets that shine through with surprises.  But I am starting to wonder if all this sleekly small design transfers all that well to the Broadway stage.  I felt the same sense of flatness with the technical wizardry in Sunday in the Park with George.  And frankly was underwhelmed by the shanty look of this season’s La Cage.  Little Night holds up a little better, especially Act 2’s transformation into a slightly less bleak Swedish country estate where the sun doesn’t set.

Thankfully, the sun doesn’t seem to set on CZJ either—as the spotlight is trained on her every move on stage.  The role seems tailor-made for CZJ—an aging actress in the twilight of her career longing to reconnect with a lost love.  The emotional depth that CZJ brings to the role makes her version of Send in the Clowns more real that and touching than the breakout ballad popularized by Streisand.  But what I really found engaging in CZJ’s performance was her comic timing and understated facial expressions that turn You Must Meet My Wife duet into a true delight.

Only an actress of Angela Lansbury legend and magnitude could carry off an acting job requiring her to set up a weird plot based on some made-up Ingmar Bergman prophecy in a wheel chair.  Of course, she does it with gusto and charm, which also must allow her to overlook the fact that CZJ’s bio in the Playbill is inexplicably twice as long as her award-winning resume.  5 Tonys vs. a list of leading men CZJ has played against?  Really?

I’m still wondering exactly what is the message of this rather odd duck of a story.  Follow your dreams?  Not really, CZJ’s character Desiree does that and almost misses life and love.  And the man she loves, Fredrick tries to follow his passion and marries the very young virgin daughter of his best friend—today that storyline is downright creepy.  To me, it’s one mixed up collection of straight people once again trying to figure out the meaning of sex in their passion-less lives.

I left hoping my next Weekend in the Country doesn’t end up like this unhappy brood.  Though if CZJ showed up to rest her voice, and pelvis, I wouldn’t necessarily mind.

Update: although CZJ and Lansbury end their run on June 20 the show is extending with Bernadette Peters & Elaine Stritch in the roles…now that should be something.

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