Friday, July 31, 2009

Blithe Spirit

Gratuitous Violins rating: *** out of ****

The final performance of Blithe Spirit on Broadway occurred while I was in New York, so I didn't have a chance to write my review. But for the sake of blog posterity I thought I'd mention a few things about it anyway.

Written by Noel Coward and first produced in London's West End in 1941, Blithe Spirit centers around novelist Charles Condomine, who has a seance conducted at his home as research for a book. The spirit of his deceased first wife, which only he can see, is summoned, much to the dismay of Charles and his current wife.

Rupert Everett played Charles and Jayne Atkinson was his wife Ruth. I'll admit I thought Atkinson seemed too old for the part - before I realized she and Everett were so close in age! Maybe it had something to do with her hairstyle. Christine Ebersole was the flirtatious Elvira. And Susan Louise O'Connor made me laugh as Edith, the Condomines' timid maid.

This was the second production of Blithe Spirit I've seen and I had the same reaction both times: I enjoyed it but it's not one of my favorite plays - just a little too upper crust and well-mannered, a little stilted and creaky. The novelty of Elvira upsetting everything wore off after awhile. I don't know, maybe I'm simply not a big Noel Coward fan.

Still, what made the experience memorable and thrilling was a chance to see Angela Lansbury portray the wacky medium Madame Arcati, in the role that won her a fifth Tony award.

It's pretty remarkable - I've only been a regular Broadway theatergoer since 2007 and in that time, I've had two chances to see Lansbury. I was enthralled watching her and Marian Seldes in Deuce, where they played two retired tennis pros looking back on their career.

And now, I've had a chance to see some of her remarkable comic timing, which I love so much when I watch her Mrs. Lovett on the Sweeney Todd dvd. It's those comic touches as she moved around on stage that brought Blithe Spirit to life.

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