Thursday, May 7, 2009

Theater Review: Blithe Spirit

Location: Shubert Theatre, 225 West 44th Street, NY, NY

Website: Blithe Spirit Playbill listing

Starring: Angela Lansbury, Rupert Everett, Christine Ebersole, Jayne Atkinson

My Review: When I saw Angela Lansbury in Deuce a couple of years ago, I assumed that would be her final performance on Broadway, which would have been a shame since it was such a snoozer of a play. Luckily, she has a chance to strut her theatrical stuff in Blithe Spirit, a delightful Noël Coward comedy, where the 80-something year old Lansbury bounds around the stage with more energy than most young Broadway actors exude.

Set in a British manor in what I assume is the 1940s, novelist Charles (Everett) invites Madame Arcati (Lansbury), a dotty medium with contacts on the Other Side, to perform a séance in his home for both the entertainment of his wife and their friends, and to conduct research for his next great work. Never once believing any of her hocus-pocus is real, Charles gets the shock of his life when his deceased first wife (Ebersole) appears, is only visible and audible to him, and has no intention of leaving anytime soon. Naturally, this causes some irritation with his current wife (Atkinson), who wonders if Charles is going insane (bad) or still harboring feelings for his first wife (even worse). So she invites Madame Arcati back in order to get rid of Charles’ paranormal paramour, which is of course easier said than done.

As no great surprise to anyone, Lansbury steals the show whenever she’s onstage. Dressed in bohemian garb that looks like it was borrowed from the production of Hair playing a few blocks away, she babbles on about her mystic connections, shimmies about the stage before falling into deep trances, and reacts with childlike glee when she actually brings back Wife #1. As the actual main character, Rupert Everett handles the role of Charles excellently. His changes from flippant skeptic to panicked husband with two wives to accepting his new living arrangement are seamless, hilarious, and believable (no small feat given the bizarre circumstances). Ebersole seems to be delighted in her role as the ghostly wife, and happily flits about the stage, picks on Charles current wife, and gives a clear idea of the mischievous woman she was when still alive.

The one possible weak link in the production is Charles’ current wife, whose reluctance to believe that Charles can see and hear his first wife slows down the momentum of the show. Whether this is the fault of playwright Coward or Jayne Atkinson’s performance, I’m not sure, but more than once I wanted to shout, “Just accept that there’s a ghost there so we can get on with it!”

Bottom Line: Blithe Spirit is entertaining and enjoyable, though unlikely to stick with you months (or years) later, the way truly sublime theater can. But it’s a fizzy, funny show that features one of Broadway’s legendary leading ladies having a ball, which is far from a bad way to spend two hours of your life.

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