NEW YORK TIMES
August 16, 2010
Broadway’s New Desirée, Learning as She Goes Along
By CHARLES McGRATH
There is a lot of audience impatience at the Walter Kerr Theater these days. From the moment the curtain comes up on Trevor Nunn’s revival of the Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler musical “A Little Night Music,” everyone is awaiting Bernadette Peters and her already famous performance of “Send In the Clowns,” the show’s great second-act signature number.
Ms. Peters’s version is naked, plaintive, wounded and ironic — a cry of disillusionment and amused self-recognition. Writing in The New York Times earlier this month, Charles Isherwood called it “an occasion of transporting artistry” and “an indelible moment in the history of musical theater.”
But Ms. Peters, who recently replaced the Tony-winning Catherine Zeta-Jones in the role of Desirée, explained last week that she gets ready for “Send In the Clowns” by not anticipating the song, or even thinking about it too much, and that every night is different. “I like to be surprised,” she said. “I sort of know what country I’m going to. I just don’t know what’s going to happen once I get there.”
She added that she thought of asking Mr. Sondheim, who is a friend, for advice but decided against it, because she wanted to discover the song on her own. She and Mr. Sondheim did discuss keys, and settled on a lower one out of a conviction that the song shouldn’t be too “singy.”
“It’s more like a monologue,” she said, explaining that it flows dramatically from the scene before, when Fredrik, Desirée’s old lover, says that they can’t be reunited because he is still attached to his teenage bride. “He’s stuck — he’s in midair,” she said. “It’s a ridiculous relationship, and he can’t give it up. He loves this woman sitting next to him. So she’s heartbroken, and it’s just ridiculous.”
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A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, directed by Tony Award®-winner Trevor Nunn, is now playing on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre (219 West 48th Street).
For more information, visit www.NightMusicOnBroadway.com