The enchanting score of “A Little Night Music,” Stephen Sondheim’s 1973 masterpiece now in revival at the Walter Kerr, is among Sondheim’s most complex, including trios, canons, and duets, with counterpoint to spare. So when Catherine Zeta-Jones sings “Send In the Clowns,” its simplicity takes your breath away.
Wisely refraining from overselling, Zeta-Jones lets the haunting melody and wistful lyrics do their magic without adornment. Form and substance are one, as Desiree Armfeldt, the famous actress Zeta-Jones plays, rejects the artifice of her life up to that point in favor of a “coherent existence.”
Making her Broadway debut (but with experience in her career in London’s West End), Zeta-Jones is a natural onstage: casual and comfortable while exuding understated flair. Angela Lansbury, as her mother, is superb as always.
Director Trevor Nunn shows that he knows what to do with a jewel: Let it shine. Sondheim’s lyrics have never been wittier; Hugh Wheeler’s book is eloquent. Sets and costumes by David Farley are lovely but unobtrusive. With the exception of Ramona Mallory, who overplays Anne Egerman, the cast sparkles, with Alexander Hanson particularly effective as Fredrik, Anne’s husband and Desiree’s sometime lover.