None of these videos are especially-good quality, and the audio of each is a bit muddled. But boy howdy are they each a treasure.
Initially, I came across one, and was going to post it. But then, doing some searching, I came across three others that leaped-out as too special to pass by. So, here are four versions of the song, "Liaisons," from Stephen Sondheim's 1973 musical A Little Night Music.
It's not that any of these are The Best rendition of the song -- I've found several others that are great, as well, which aficionados may well swear by. And I'm not even including the original, which was Hermione Gingold, who not only played the role of Mme. Armfeld in the first Broadway production, but in the initial staging in London, as well. Rather, these are four performances that are in their own ways historic, and remarkable for who the actresses are. And one of them -- alas, audio only -- is (to me) the most special of all, and I don't say that because I saw it live, when the show was on its national tour in Chicago, but because...well, you'll understand when we get to it.
The song is the only solo number for the character, and it's a showstopper. Mrs. Armfeld is an old woman, an aged, former courtesan -- the mother of the main character, Desiree -- who has been watching all the dalliances going on around her during the course of the show and eventually reminisces wistfully what real liaisons should be, that they be done with class and style and grace.
This first is a fairly recent revival of the show on Broadway, done I believe around 2012. It brings back to Sondheim an actress who in much earlier days starred in Sondheim's first show, Anyone Can Whistle and then had great success (and a Tony award) for another of his musicals, playing then Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. But here, Angela Lansbury has grown into the role of Mme. Armfeldt.
Next, this is Glynnis Johns in the role. She may not be as well-known as the other performers here, but is beloved for one particular role. And theater fans already know why this particular performance is special to include. The reason most people would remember Glynnis Johns is for a movie -- she played the mother, Mrs. Banks, in the movie, Mary Poppins. But that's not why she's included in this collection. It's because for the original Broadway production of A Little Night Music, she was the actress who created the starring role of Desireee -- indeed, who introduced the song, "Send in the Clowns." And with the passage of time, she returned to the show, this time as Desiree's mother, in a 1991 revival in Los Angeles.
Below, this was the video I referred to at the beginning, that I initially found and had intended to post alone. It comes from a 2010 limited-run production in Paris, the first-ever version of the show done there. Unfortunately, the video is just a single long shot, no close-ups or even anything medium, so you can't really see any details. But the audio comes through well, and therefore you get to enjoy the lovely performance of Leslie Caron. (If reminders are needed for anyone, she starred in such classic films as An American in Paris, Gigi and Lili, among many others. (A wonderful side note: when starring in the title role of Gigi, the actress who played her grandmother was...Hermione Gingold, who as mentioned later created the role of of Mme. Armfeld.) I believe this production only ran for a week, and what's interesting is that they didn't translate it into French -- perhaps translating intricate Sondheim lyrics was too much of a challenge, at least for a limited run -- but you can see "super-titles" at the top of the stage, translating the words into French, as is used for operas these days.
And wonderful as all these are, this, to me, is the gem. A good part of that is personal -- as I said, I saw this production on the show's national tour when it came to Chicago in the mid-1970s, playing at the Shubert Theater. Jean Simmons was the star, and she also played the role in the London production. And as terrific as the production was, it was this performance of "Liaisons" which made the matinee so memorable for me. That's because the role of Mme. Armfeldt was played by none other than...Margaret Hamilton! Yes, the 'Wicked Witch of the West' from The Wizard of Oz. And she was great. It remains one of the handful of most-memorable performances I've seen. My recollection is that she played the role very differently from the others. As you saw in the videos above, Mme. Armfeld is in a wheelchair, and at the end of the song she fades off and falls asleep, and is wheeled off-stage by an attendant. That's the only way I've seen the role done -- except in this production. Margaret Hamilton walked hesitantly out on stage, but stood there, almost defiant against age and time and sang it standing tall. And then walks carefully offstage.
As I said, this is only the audio, but still... You at least get to hear Margaret Hamilton steal the show with "Liaisons."
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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