BY Brandon Voss
August 17 2010 1:45 PM ET
Has a major cast replacement ever truly made a whole show better than its original vision? Probably, but one would be hard-pressed to find a stronger example of such improvement than in the current Broadway revival of A Little Night Music. Based on Ingmar Bergman’s film Smiles of a Summer Night and set in early-20th-century Sweden, Sondheim’s sophisticatedly sentimental 1973 musical opened at the Walter Kerr Theatre with Catherine Zeta-Jones as Desiree, an aging actress, and Angela Lansbury as her prickly wheelchair-bound mother. After a brief hiatus, Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch have made those roles their own, brightening Trevor Nunn’s shadowy staging with effortless humor and snap. Peters is subtler than her predecessor, but ol’ talk-singing Stritchie steals the show with somewhat anachronistic sass — even when flubbing her lines.
A musical tearjerker about a deteriorating suburban family, Next to Normal, which opened in April 2009 at the Booth Theatre and won the 2010 Pulitzer for drama, has also undergone major cast changes. Most notably, real-life spouses Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley have taken over for Tony winner Alice Ripley and J. Robert Spencer as manic-depressive mom Diana and her husband, Dan. Mazzie flawlessly belts Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s abnormally moving score, but she’s more subdued than Ripley, who does bat-shit crazy like no other. Likewise, the electric Kyle Dean Massey, who recently modeled for Out, is gentler than his predecessor, Howl’s Aaron Tveit, as “superboy” son Gabe. The show’s still sublime, but the overhaul has smoothed it out as though everyone took a Xanax, which might actually make the unconventional tuner more accessible for tourists.
For my next column, I’ll once again take the good and take the bad when I take on the 14th annual New York International Fringe Festival, attempting to sit through as many queer shows as is doctor-recommended for a discerning gay man of my age, weight, and height. As always, I’ll save you a seat!
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