Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Lansbury Is Large As Medium In 'Blithe Spirit'

Angela Lansbury

By Darlene Donloe

Angela Lansbury has been entertaining audiences since the 1940s when she starred in the classic, Gaslight.  She went on to have an illustrious career on stage, in films and on television, where she starred as mystery writer Jessica Fletcher on the drama Murder, She Wrote, which aired from 1984-1996.  It’s been 70 years of unforgettable performances!!!

Fast forward to 2014 and Lansbury hasn’t slowed down one bit. A theatrical gem, Lansbury is currently starring in Noel Coward’s comedy farce, Blithe Spirit, currently running at the Center Theater Group/Ahmanson Theatre.   The show, directed by Michael Blakemore, runs through Jan. 18, 2015.

The play takes place in the living room of the Condomine’s house in Kent, England. The story goes like this. Writer Charles Condomine (Charles Edwards), who is doing some research for his new novel, invites a somewhat questionable medium named Madame Arcati (Angela Lansbury) to his house for a séance. Things begin to happen. The table begins to move. While consumed in a trance, Arcati unwittingly summons the ghost of Charles’ dead wife Elvira (Jemima Rooper). Appearing only to the suave and debonair Charles, Elvira, who died in the house, decides she wants to reclaim her husband, much to the chagrin of Charles’ new wife, Ruth (Charlotte Parry). One husband, two feuding wives.  This can’t be good!

Au contraire, it’s excellent!

(l-r) Susan Louise O'Connor (standing), Sandra Shipley, Charles Edwards, 
Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Parry and Simon Jones

It’s easy to understand why Angela Lansbury won a Tony Award for her performance. She sparkles, shines and kills it on stage. She is nothing short of Brilliant!!! It’s hard to believe that this veteran of all things entertainment is still just as spry and vibrant as ever. At 89, she commands every step she takes on the stage. Her delivery is on point and her presence kicks it up a notch.  She breathes life into Arcati. Dressed as an eccentric gypsy, Madame Arcati always knows more than she lets on. She’s in a trance and out of a trance. She talks to ghosts she can’t see and has no problem putting the people she can see – in their place.  Is she a complete fraud? Not if you ask her. Although she flits about the stage as if she’s having a fit, Arcati believes in her own ability. After all, she’s been a medium since she was five-years-old.

There are laughs a plenty in this hilarious romp!

The support cast is equally enchanting. Charles Edwards, Jemima Rooper and Charlotte Parry are exceptional!!!  Susan Louise O’Connnor is a scream as Edith, a somewhat batty maid.  Sandra Shipley and Simon Jones do their part to bring the story to life. With Coward's words to work with, a lot of the work is done for them.

Blakemore has assembled an exceptional cast!  His direction is fluid and effective.  Simon Higlett’s design is brilliant, as is Mark Jonathan’s lighting and Ben and Max Ringham’s sound.

Blithe Spirit, one of Noel Coward’s most popular comedies, was first seen on Broadway in 1941, the same year it was produced in London where it set British box office records and was the longest running comedy (1,997 performances) until it was eventually surpassed by Boeing Boeing in the 1970s.  The original Broadway production played nearly two years and co-starred Leonora Corbett, Mildred Natwick, Clifton Webb and Peggy Wood. In 1987, it was revived on Broadway in an all-star production with Richard Chamberlain, Blythe Danner, Judith Ivey and Geraldine Page in her final Broadway appearance.
(l-r) Charles Edwards, Jemima Rooper and Charlotte Parry

The latest revival on Broadway opened at the Shubert Theatre on March 19, 2009. Directed by Michael Blakemore, it co-starred Angela Lansbury, Jayne Atkinson, Christine Ebersole, Rupert Everett, Simon Jones, Susan Louise O’Connor and Deborah Rush. Following its critical acclaim and box office success on Broadway, Lansbury returned to the London stage after 40 years to reprise her Tony Award-winning role.

In his autobiography, Coward claimed he wrote the play in five days during a holiday. Only two lines of dialogue were removed before its first production in London.

Blithe Spirit stars Lansbury, Charles Edwards, Jemima Rooper, Charlotte Parry, Simon Jones, Susan Louise O’Connor and Sandra Shipley.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (oh, yeah) and E (excellent), Blithe Spirit gets and E (excellent).

Blithe Spirit, Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand, Los Angeles; 8 p.m., Tues-Mon.; 2 and 8 p.m. Sat.; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sun. through January 18, 2015; NO Monday performances, NO performance Dec. 24, Dec. 25 or Jan. 1; $25-$140; for information: 213 628-2772 or www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.

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