USA Today seems to have had a fair bit of coverage of A Little Night Music, including interviews with Catherine Zeta-Jones, Angela Lansbury and Stephen Sondheim himself.
The first article I saw was an interview with Zeta-Jones, some of which was ported over to BroadwayWorld. Says Zeta-Jones:
I want to do a straight play next. And one of my biggest dreams is to do a one-woman show, with dancing and singing. I just have to figure out the concept.
I wonder what play, or kind of play, she’s thinking of and what kind of material she’d perform in her one-woman show. Anyway, it took me ages to find the original article on USA Today and was surprised (kinda, but not deeply, I suppose) that BroadwayWorld had left out the stuff that deals specifically with the rehearsals for A Little Night Music, for example:
I pretty much spoke (“Send in the Clowns”) in rehearsals. You can’t compete with all the great voices that have sung it…. it isn’t a song you should belt. It’s more of an acting piece.
But better yet is this great interview with Lansbury and Sondheim: “Side by Side: Stephen Sondheim and Angela Lansbury on a lifetime in theater” Some of the best bits:
Angela Lansbury: I began my professional career in cabaret—in a Russian nightclub in Montreal called the Samovar. I sang a lot of Noël Coward, and an arrangement of “I Went to a Marvelous Party” with coloratura, contralto, mock German. I had ideas of singing, but it was always a character singing, never straight singing.
Stephen Sondheim: Angie came over one afternoon while we were in rehearsal and said, “Cora is a cartoon, and I don’t know how to play a cartoon. I’m not that kind of performer.” I said, not bluntly, “You read the script and you knew she was a kind of Kay Thompson substitute—the whole idea is that her heartlessness and banality would be reflected in my heartless, jazzy nightclub numbers.” She had trouble with that—I’m putting words in your mouth, Angie—because there was no there there. I didn’t know what I could do about that, but then she added, “And Lee [Remick, the other female lead] has five songs while I have four.” I said: “That I can solve.”
The new song he wrote was “A Parade in Town”! And then this little exchange wraps up the Anyone Can Whistle segment:
Jesse Green: She’d been through the London Blitz—she’s a trouper.
Stephen Sondheim: And she’d been through Arthur.
That might be the best thing I’ve read all week. There are many other anecdotes about Gypsy, Sweeney Todd and A Little Night Music. It’s a very enjoyable conversation to read. I only wish it was longer!
Just read the interview: Lansbury chose to play Armfeldt’s “tremendous imperiousness” and show it crumbling. And imperiousness is something she does really well. (But then, there can be more to Madame Armfeldt than that, can there?)
But in between the imperiousness of Armfeldt and Herthe von Ornstein, the jolliness of Mrs Lovett and Mrs Potts, and the total wackiness of certain characters such as Salome Otterbourne in Death on the Nile, isn’t Lansbury always very recognizable? She really isn’t the kind of actress that completely transforms herself. But something in between a British character actor and an American star actor, that makes the character an extension of his/her own personality?
I do think there are two distinct phases to Lansbury’s career – the younger phase where her roles tended to be more ruthless (from the maid in Gaslight to The Manchurian Candidate, even Cora) and then the phase started maybe with Mame where even the more ruthless characters (like Ornstein and Nellie) have that much softer edge. Of course most Americans think of her automatically now as the character from Murder, She Wrote (a slightly fuzzier version of Miss Marple, who she of course played in The Mirror Crack’d but probably did so too young) or Mrs Potts, so Mme Armfeldt is a more severe take from that. But I get your point – while she has played a great deal of different roles wonderfully, her gift isn’t one for completely disappearing into character.
Oh, she couldn’t hide herself beneath Miss Marple’s skin, either, the way Hickson did. But she played the comedy well.
A book I read spoke of her “petulant beauty” in the early phase of her career. And petulance, I guess is what she did in most of her Hollywood roles, Gaslight, The Court Jester. It developed to the bit part bitches she did in Blue Hawaii and The Manchurian Candidate, until she turned sympathetic and matronly with Mame and Bedknobs. Might it be, with her recent roles as Aunt Adelaide and Armfeldt, she’s returning to the unsympathetic phase? Is she aiming for the film version of August Osage County?
Well isn’t part of it that we all know Lansbury well, and we don’t know Hickson – at least I don’t. So she becomes Marple more in a way. They wanted to do an all star Marple franchise with The Mirror Crack’d (to complement the concurrent all star Poirot movies – first with Finney then with Ustinov that were hits at the time thouigh that series soon petered out too). It was ironic that nearly everyone found her too young to be cast in the role when so soon afterwards she did Murder. (Was her role in Manchurian a “bit part?” I forgot she was in Blue Hawaii.)
Well, all right, playing Orson Welles’ girlfriend in Long, Hot Summer (not a bad film, eh?), pushed down the cast list by both Joanne Woodward and Lee Remick fits the designation better. But she was peeved that her character Mrs. Iselin “didn’t even have a name!”