When a legendary actor wins an Oscar or a Tony, as Angela Lansbury did for her portrayal of the medium Madame Arcati in the 2009 Broadway revival of Blithe Spirit, there is always a question of whether the award is for a lifetime achievement or the specific performance being honored.
No question this time. Lansbury’s medium is never medium–she is decidedly well done. Her trance dance alone is worth the price of admission.
The National Theatre run is the last stop on a North American tour that began in Los Angeles in December. Her Washington appearance comes 58 years later to the day of her first pre-Broadway appearance in Washington. If this is Lansbury on last leg of her current tour, one can only wonder what the 89-year old was like at the beginning of the run. She is a wonder!
Noel Coward’s play is unabashedly dated but it is still a romp of a drawing room comedy. Charles Edwards, Edith’s late lamented love on Downton Abbey, ably plays author Charles Condomine, who hires Madame Arcati to conduct a seance to provide color for his novel-in-the-works about a murdering medium. Arcati inadvertently brings back the ghost of Condomine’s first wife Elvira, the delicious Melissa Woodbridge, and pandemonium ensues. Susan Louise O’Connor steals every scene in which she appears as the incompetent maid Edith.
Michael Blakemore, the only director to win two Tonys in the same year for a play and a musical, is a master of physical comedy and timing. This grande dame of a play would be a little creaky in the joints were it not for his expert pacing. Everything about this production is first rate.
But it would nowhere near as special without the incredible Lansbury. She reportedly wears an earpiece for cues in case she forgets a line. Clearly, she hasn’t forgotten anything about theater. If she ever retires, we’ll have to find our own Madame Arcati to bring her back.
3 1/2 stars
Blithe Spirit at the National Theatre
March 20 to March 29
$48 to $128