Friday, November 18, 2011

theatre review PRIVATE LIVES, Broadway, November 17

If you're looking for a play with wit and sophistication you can't go wrong with anything written by Noël Coward.  The 7th Broadway revival of his hit 1930 play Private Lives opened on Broadway last night and we were there.  Starring Kim Cattrall and Paul Gross along with a perfect supporting cast, it is a smashing revival and one that I think you'll have a simply swell time at.

Private Lives is a perfectly structured play that lays out over three acts the feisty yet loving relationship between Amanda and Elyot.  Cattrall is Amanda and Gross is Elyot.  Divorced from each other for five years, they unexpectedly meet up again at the start of the play when they discover that each other is on their second honeymoon in the South of France and they just happen to have adjoining balconies at the same hotel.  Their three year marriage was a stormy one of fights, feuds, trust issues and all out passion, with passion being the key.  It is no wonder that when each of them sees each other again, and realizes that there is still something between them and that the individuals they just got married to are poor examples of their first spouse, that they decide to run away together.  They are the ultimate example of a couple that can't live without each other and also can't live with each other.

Paul Gross and Kim Cattrall
Cattrall is simply sublime as Amanda, hitting all of the right notes in the role from the zany ones to the more dark, shadowy ones.  She perfectly captures the woman who knows what she is doing is probably wrong, but knows that Elyot is the only man for her even with his weaknesses.  I especially liked how she played the scene when she first realizes that it is Elyot who is on the balcony next to her, with the fear in her eyes as well as the way she showed sincere compassion several times for the two spouses they both just left behind on their honeymoons.  Cattrall is obviously best known for playing Samantha in the Sex and the City tv series and films but there is no trace of that oversexed, fearless character on stage, which is a huge example of Cattrall's abilities.

Kim Cattrall and Simon Paisley Day
Gross nicely plays the somewhat pompous Elyot in a extremely casual and somewhat flippant way.  He is more Cary Grant suave then Noël Coward sophisticate (Coward played the part in both the original 1930 London production and the 1931 Broadway premiere.)   With his good looks, charm and way with words, you clearly see why Amanda is in love with him.  The part has less breadth than Amanda's so Gross isn't quite given the range of emotions to play that Cattrall is.

The two new spouses, Victor (Simon Paisley Day) and Sybil (Anna Madeley) are interesting in that for this version it is clear that they aren't exactly equals to Amanda and Elyot.  Sybil is portrayed as a silly young woman and Victor as a stern Englishmen.  While it does seem that Amanda could possibly be in love with Victor, I never once felt that Elyot was actually in love with Sybil.   This is no fault to either Day or Madeley, as they are obviously performing the parts as directed.  However it would have been nice to see these parts portrayed as almost equals to the leads so that there was not only an actual rationale in who Amanda and Elyot picked for their second spouses but also more of a sense of loss for running away and leaving them behind.  For example, in the original UK and Broadway productions, Laurence Olivier played Victor.  No matter what, Day and Madeley are absolutely perfect in the parts, and are each given plenty to show off what they are capable of.

Paul Gross and Anna Madeley
Coward's play provides perfect well written parts that allow it's actors to show just about every possible emotion from high comedy to drama.  Now director Richard Eyre has provided more comedy than I remember being present in past versions of this show, which provides a nice touch to the evening as well as more balance to what could be a very dry affair.  The humor also perfectly plays into the madcap and spontaneous parts of both Amanda and Elyot.  The cast is up to the challenge of this and manages to play the comic moments effortlessly.

Coward's song "Someday I'll Find You," which he wrote for the play, is nicely used throughout to add a nice element to the show.  I especially liked how it is one of the first things that draws Amanda and Elyot back together on the balcony when they hear a band playing it off in the distance and also a way for them to reconnect with Gross playing it on the piano and Cattrall singing the lyrics, once they've run away to Paris.

The sets and costumes by Rob Howell are gorgeous with the Paris apartment set a beautiful art deco extravaganza including a very inventive fish tank.  David Howe's lighting provides beautiful moonlight in the first act balcony scene as well as both romantic evening lighting in act two and the stark reality brightness of the morning in the third act after everyone meets up again and has to face the cost of their actions.

Don't miss this revival of Private Lives!

Official Show Site

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