Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Little Night Music (1977) "Dulce Viena"

Director: Harold Prince
Elizabeth Taylor, Diana Rigg, Len Cariou, Lesley-Anne Down, Hermione Gingold, Laurence Guittard, Christopher Guard, Lesley Dunlop

A Little Night Music was one of the most sophisticated and stylish stage musicals ever written. It was inspired by an Ingmar Bergman film and played on Broadway in 1973, winning six Tony Awards including Best Musical. When it was decided to make a film version, the original creative team (Stephen Sondheim, Hugh Wheeler and director Harold Prince) decided to alter their work. They shifted the setting from Sweden to Austria, which eliminated the aspect of a sun-lit evening ("perpetual sunset is rather an unsettling thing"). Also eliminated was the important Quintet, who provided a Greek chorus effect, commenting on the action with the songs "Remember?", "Perpetual Anticipation" and the "Night Waltz". I could understand their elimination, but when it came to the remainder of the score, gone was Carl-Magnus' solo "In Praise of Women", Madame Armfeldt's biting and nostalgic "Liaisons", and Petra's poignant "The Miller's Son". A new solo version of "The Glamorous Life" was written, there were new lyrics for "A Weekend in the Country". Elizabeth Taylor, dramatically, makes a good Desiree, but vocally, she makes Broadway original Glynis Johns look like Lily Pons. Bright spots in the film include Len Cariou, Laurence Guittard and the magnificent Hermione Gingold, reprising their original stage roles. Basically, the reconception did not work for the story. This musical is best seen on stage. If it was transferred correctly, this could have been one of the classics of film, but its best to steer clear of this and listen to the marvelous original Broadway cast recording.

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