Friday, March 13, 2009

Go Blithe on Broadway

Last night I saw a preview of "Blithe Spirit" on Broadway, which opens this weekend. It's a rare chance to see a Noel Coward play on Broadway, and possibly the last chance to see Angela Lansbury in a major role. The play was written in 1941 and takes place in an English village, in the home of a comfortably well-to-do writer, Charles Condomine, and his second wife, Ruth. They are planning an evening's entertainment and have invited a local couple and a local medium, Madame Arcati, who will conduct a seance after dinner. The writer is doing research for a novel and hopes that the evening will yield interesting information that he can use. Trouble ensues when the medium conjures the spirit of his dead first wife, Elvira, who wreaks havoc on his home and tries to come between him and his living wife. The medium is called back in to try to send the dead wife back to the spirit world, with interesting results.

Apparently, Paula Roberts, a well-known psychic, was hired to advise the production.

The writer is played by the fabulous Rupert Everett, a longtime favorite of mine. Rupert is now 50 years old, and looks amazing, and is the epitome of classic elegance onstage. He moves beautifully, with grace and naturalness, draping himself all over the furniture, long legs crossed, completely at ease and looking INCREDIBLE in his marvelous wardrobe, designed by Martin Pakledinaz. I first fell under Rupert's spell in the film "Another Country" which was quite some time ago. He should be a bigger star and hopefully will become the toast of Broadway. He appears completely comfortable in this milieu and has appeared in two Coward plays previously in the UK.

Angela Lansbury plays Madame Arcati, the medium. I've seenher in plays and watched on the screen many of her performances over the years; she's now in her eighties and doing an 8-show-a-week schedule. She plays this role quietly, though it's faintly reminiscent of her turn as Salome Otterbourne in Death on the Nile, one of my favorite films EVER, as a drunken writer of romance novels. I was expecting more camp in this vein, but her playing was dignified, yet physical, as she often danced across the stage.

Christine Ebersole plays Elvira and it's a tough role, but she held her own. I would have liked to see her a bit freer, ethereal yet earthly as she was clearly a fun-loving woman and a contrast to Ruth's groundedness. There should definitely be more bewitching and sensual danger to Elvira, and I didn't sense that. I did enjoy her singing period songs during the clever transitions.

Jayne Atkinson played Ruth, Charles current wife. I liked her and enjoyed watching how she dealt with Elvira's presence in her life. This character for me is the most realized of the four.

Simon Jones and Deborah Rush round out the cast, and Susan Louise O'Connor, as the maid, is allowed a great deal of physical comedy and nearly steals the show. It's directed by Michael Blakemore and is at the Shubert Theater on Broadway.

Here's the website for the show. Show photos are here.

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