A Little Night Music
There's little doubt that this new Broadway cast recording of the Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler classic is a handsome package: a two-CD set that's accompanied by a generous booklet that contains copious photographs of the production running at the Walter Kerr Theatre, lyrics, and some great notes from Frank Rich. In addition, it's also impossible to quibble with the disc's producer Tommy Krasker, who has seen to it that the orchestrations for the recording are more substantial on disc than what is heard in the theater. Here, 12 musicians give Sondheim's music a satisfyingly full-bodied sound, and the show's songs are augmented by judiciously chosen dialogue that provides a complete sense of the production.
Yet, even as listeners will find it easy to agree on the sumptuousness of packaging and overall sound of the music, the performers' interpretations of their roles and the general singing quality will cause a divergence of opinion, perhaps for many years to come. The undisputed star -- both on stage and on disc -- is the redoubtable Angela Lansbury, who brings bite, cunning phrasing, and an assured style to the role of Madame Armfeldt. And, in fact, Lansbury's shrewd delivery of "Liaisons" may set the benchmark by which all future interpretations of the song are set. There's a similar sense of sureness to the quintet of performers who serve as the show's chorus, throughout.
As for the other principals, Alexander Hanson's sensitive, rather than arrogantly self-assured, interpretation of Frederick Engerman is perhaps the most intriguing and ultimately successful. Catherine Zeta-Jones playing actress Desiree Armfeldt (and Frederick's one-time lover) opts to deliver a chameleon-like performance vocally, suiting line-readings to the character's audience at hand, but at times, her choices can sound overly coarse and unduly harsh. The same qualities extend to Ramona Mallory's portrayal of Frederick's much-younger wife Anne. Aaron Lazar and Erin Davie, playing the preening Count Carl-Magnus and his wife Charlotte, capture the couple's unhappiness with precision and Leigh Ann Larkin's take on "The Miller's Son" impresses. It's a disc that all musical theater lovers will want to own, savor, and ultimately, debate.
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