“Isn’t it bliss? Don’t you approve?”
I always assume that people know where the name of this blog came from but for those that don’t, it is a lyrical reference from Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. Which gives a seamless segue into this post about two cast recordings of the show – the first from the 1995 National Theatre production and the second from the 2010 Broadway revival. The first is most notable for capturing one of the greatest moments in musical theatre, possibly even theatre full stop.
Judi Dench’s extraordinary rendition of ‘Send in the Clowns’ may be close to becoming a party trick (if there’s a gala, she’ll be there) but it truly is a remarkable thing. The cracks in her voice are a perfect match for the ageing star that is Desirée and the speak-singing style allows her to act the hell out of the song – the way in which she sighs ‘weeeellllll’ near the end is just spine-tingling. 4 minutes 23 of pure perfection.
But it isn’t just the Dench show. Sean Mathias’ production is stuffed from top to bottom with sheer talent, all of which gets their moment to shine on this disc. Siân Phillips imbues ‘Liaisons’ with all the bitter regret of a life gone by, Issy van Randwyck scorches through ‘The Miller’s Son’ and Joanna Riding makes a strong impact as Anne. Jonathan Tunick’s arrangements are luxurious in their quality, making this a soundtrack to truly cherish.
So, against that, it is hardly a shock that the Broadway Revival Cast recording from 2010 doesn’t match up to it. What is surprising though is how far off the mark it is. Trevor Nunn took his successful Menier Chocolate Factory revival over to New York, along with Hanson, but the big name casting that was employed fell rather flat. Though I like them both, Catherine Zeta-Jones as Desirée feels uninspired and Angela Lansbury is just wrong as Mme Armfeldt, her too recognisable voice entirely out of character.
More seriously, the orchestrations by Jason Carr feel misjudged in a way I didn’t notice in the theatre (I don’t think these were specially done for Broadway, though I could be wrong).Too often there is meddling for the sake of meddling, changes made in instrumentation (usually the bassoon) that alter the tenor of songs too much. Add in the po-faced seriousness of the spoken interludes and it becomes something of a trial to get to the end. Stick with the NT I reckon.