Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Night music ....

Finally, the 1977 film of Stephen Sondheim's musical A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, and what a laughably awful film it is.- however, I saw three great stage productions of it.  The hit show of course was based on Ingmar Bergman's 1955 classic SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT, which is a delightful movie. The broadway show featured a favourite of ours, Glynis Johns (now in her 90s) for whom Sondheim wrote "Send In The Clowns" to suit her voice (I had the original cast album and have just re-ordered it on cd). 
I saw the London production in 1975 with Jean Simmons as Desiree and Hermione Gingold reprising her broadway role as her mother, with her great number "Liaisons". Then I saw a late 80s production with Dorothy Tutin, Peter McEnery, Susan Hampshire and Lila Kedrova as Madame Armfeldt - all people I like and it was a satisfactory version of the original. Then of course came the great National Theatre production in the 90s, with Judi Dench and Sian Phillips and Patrica Hodge. A friend had a friend working there and managed to get preview tickets - the great man, Sondheim, was sitting just one seat away from us, scribbling furiously throughout. 
There was also the 1977 film directed by theatre director Harold Prince, and no wonder it was little seen at the time and sank into well-deserved obscurity, as they absolutely ruined it, the film is a clunking piece, set (maybe for financial reasons) in Austria - not Sweden - so the references to long summer nights have no meaning. Two of the best numbers are gone: the lusty maid's song that she is going to marry "The Miller's Son" and Madame Armfeldt's lament "Liaisons", at least the film has Hermione Gingold in the role, but without her main number, precious little to do - though I did like her barbed comment to her daughter Desiree.

Elizabeth Taylor plays Desiree and by 1977 her bruised vulnerability should be ideal for the role of the actress tired of "the glamorous life" and wanting to settle down, but Taylor's looks and weight vary from scene to scene and the minnie mouse singing voice she is dubbed with, are all at sea here. 
Diana Rigg comes off best as Charlottle, while Lesley-Anne Down plays the vapid  virgin young bride vapidly. Len Cariou as Fredrik (he played it on Broadway) and Laurence Guittard as Count Carl-Magnus are equally unimpressive and almost interchangeable here - Guittard played Fredrik in the Old Vic Judi Dench production. 
Fredrik Egerman goes to see his old flame, touring actress Desiree Armfeldt, whose daughter stays with her mother, retired wealthy courtesan Madame Armfeldt. Complications arrive when her other love Count Carl-Magnus arrives. His wife, Charlotte, is trying to make their marriage work despite his indifference to her. Meanwhile Fredrik's young wife Anne is still a virgin and his son from a previous marriage is falling in love her. The mismatched lovers arrive for that "weekend in the country" at Madame Armfeldt's estate, which has been arranged by Desiree, trying to sort out these complications. The old courtesan surveys the tangled relationships and sings that song "Liaisons" about what affairs of the heart were like in her day, while Desiree muses "Send in the clowns" as the long summer night smiles ...

It all works on stage, but this version is a poor substitute. Taylor - so perfect in the 50s and 60s is past her best here and the film is clumsily directed. Prince's other film, the very gay 1970 black comedy SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE (also scripted by Hugh Wheeler) is a cult favourite which we liked at the time (well, there were not many gay black comedies then) with favourites Angela Lansbury and Michael York - see review at Lansbury/York/Gay Interest labels. 

A feast of Sondheim for 2015: INTO THE WOODS is just about to open, I saw the trailer and I am hearing good things about Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen,  and of course Meryl; I am also going to see the current production of ASSASSINS in Feburary when a friend who wants to see it is coming over from Ireland, and I have just got  a pair of tickets (very expensive, but it is a big show) for the highly praised new production of GYPSY coming into London from its initial run at Chichester in April, where Imelda Staunton got rave reviews for her Mamma Rose - I saw her in GUYS AND DOLLS at the National over a decade ago, so I know how great she will be.  So Sondheim continues to be in favour in his eighties, shame about the film of his NIGHT MUSIC
Other Sondheims we loved are the 1962 film of GYPSY, FOLLIES (Eartha Kitt played Carlotta when I saw it, which also had Diana Rigg and Julia McKenzie), the 1985 FOLLIES CONCERT with Lee Remick, Elaine Stritch, Barbara Cook and more; the score for PACIFIC OVERTURES, and of course SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM which I saw twice,
 and I got taken backstage too to meet Julia McKenzie and Millient Martin in their dressing-gowns, by Pamela, a friend whose mother was Julia McKenzie's agent at the time. Then of course there's COMPANY, SWEENEY TODD in its many incarnations, and the short-lived but cult item ANYONE CAN WHISTLE, the 1964 cast  album with Remick and Lansbury is a must, etc. 


  1. Hey Mike, nice post on an unwatchable film! Have tried numerous times being a diehard Taylor fan, and have ultimately seen it all in bits and pieces, but just can't get through the damn thing in one sitting -- it's just so frustrating that all that talent produced something so lame.

    And I believe that's la Taylor doing her own "singing" -- her Send In The Clowns is a classic as she goes spectacularly off key on the phrase, "in my...(long pause)... ca--reer."

    According to Time magazine, she had an engineer fired for laughing during her prerecording of the song; Time concluding its report with the snarky, "...and now for her NEXT number..."

  2. Imelda Staunton as Mama Rose!!! I am every shade of green with envy!

    As to the film version of Little Night Music, it's a stinker. I've never seen the stage show and only saw Smiles of a Summer Night for the first time last month but even without the foreknowledge of the shape and texture it was supposed to have I could tell something must be missing. The only worthwhile pieces were Hermione Gingold, as always, and the divine Diana Rigg. Poor Liz was wrong, wrong, wrong. I'm a fan of her but she was a variable performer, when she was on her game she could be wonderful but when she was off as she is here well......

    I'm going to see Into the Woods, I loved the stage show, but I'm wary. Why if they're going to do these things can't they use people who are gifted singers? I respect Meryl Streep, although I'm suffering a bit of burnout from her ubiquity, but quality singing is not in her skill set. I have heard that Chris Pine is the surprise MVP and it great to see Billy Magnussen, who started out on a soap opera I used to watch, slowly working his way up.

    It gives you a certain affection I think for those performers you watch emerge over and above general interest. I recall the same thing with Sigourney Weaver long ago when I was a kid and she was on one of my mother's soaps, Somerset, in a smallish role and the next thing you know she was a more and more visible until she was at the top. I've always paid more attention to her career because of that early awareness.

  3. Hopefully I will get back to London for GYPSY in April and. of course, I'm really looking forward to seeing ASSASSINS with you. I saw FOLLIES twice during its Drury Lane run once with Rigg and Dolores Grey and then again with Millicent Martin (better than Rigg) and Eartha.

  4. I would have loved to have seen Dolores Gray on stage, love her 4 MGM flicks in the mid 50s: ITS AWAYS FAIR WEATHER, KISMET, THE OPPOSITE SEX and DESIGNING WOMAN.
    Looking forward to seeing ASSASSINS with you in Feb.