It seems like the brainchild of a marketing genius. Take two of Broadway’s most celebrated living actresses, bringing with them more than 100 years of combined New York stage experience, and cast them as mother and daughter in a show that mines both their glittering history as musical-theater performers and their indelible association with the composer.
It was some casting coup to have Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch step into the Broadway revival of “A Little Night Music,” particularly for a production that had been scheduled to close when original leads Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury finished their contracts. But the idea didn’t come from a marquee-minded producer or from the fantasy casting thread of chat-room show queens.
“Actually, it was mine, I have to confess,” said the composer himself, Stephen Sondheim. “I don’t know why, but it simply hadn’t occurred to anybody to cast anybody as well known as Elaine and Bernadette for the parts.”
“Why didn’t you call Greta Garbo?” he quipped. “Oh, it never occurred to me.”
The deal came together quickly, with less than three weeks of performances before critics were invited back at the end of July.
“It’s a miracle,” said Stritch with a mix of gratitude and fear as she headed into a frenetic weekend of dress rehearsals. “There’s no time to do anything. So you just do one foot at a time.”
In the 1973 show, set in fin de siècle Sweden, Peters takes on the role of Desiree Armfeldt, an actress looking to extricate herself from one lover to rekindle an old flame, who is inconveniently besotted with his child bride. Stritch plays Desiree’s mother, Mme. Armfeldt, a quasi-aristocratic, Proustian figure who observes these and other romantic entanglements from her wheelchair with the same wry detachment she brings to remembrances of her colorful past.
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Photos: Peters and Stritch, theatrical daughter and mother. Credit: Joan Marcus