Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Great Moments in New York Theater: Leigh Ann Larkin


My husband’s devotion to Leigh Ann Larkin began with a little play called GYPSY. She was playing Dainty June and her Mama, Rose, was being played by a lady named LuPone. It was an important piece of theater because any chance to hear the LuPone Lady sing those songs is a good thing; but also because it gave three actors the chance to redefine characters, long, played the exact same way by every actor to tackle them. Boyd Gaines and Laura Benanti got Tony awards for their redefinition of their parts. Leigh Ann Larkin did not; but it didn’t stop Pat from marveling, repeatedly, about how wonderful she was in this new version of an old role. As he said “she didn’t say funny lines – she said lines funny”. He was right.

Leigh Ann Larkin can take lines that haven’t a smidgen of humour and say them in a way that makes the audience laugh. She looks at things (at least the characters we have seen her play) a different way and delivers them to her audience with a style and panache that demands that they look at her.

And love her.

I also saw the production of Gypsy and took note of Leigh Ann Larkin. It was, though, at a weekend in the country when I developed my own devotion to the lady.

A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC was my first Sondheim show. A teenager wanting to be sophisticated, I bought myself the record album from the original production. Also wanting to be a singer, I bought the music book and found a voice teacher who appreciated that I wanted to sing the complex Liaisons or The Miller’s Son, rather than the less rangy (and more frequently sung) Send in the Clowns. I always loved the song The Miller’s Son and loved what I understood of the character of Petra The Maid. I saw productions of A Little Night Music over the years and even saw the film; but nobody ever brought Petra to life for me; and my favourite recordings of the song came from reviews and solo albums, not from any productions of the show.

Upon my first visit to the current revival of A Little Night Music, I was, naturally, ecstatic over Angela Lansbury’s presence onstage and very happy to see Catherine Zeta-Jones (who, at that first visit, was not finished defining her performance; that came by my next visit). Aside from my delight at the two leading ladies, though, I walked away saying “now THAT is the Petra I have been waiting for!”

I have, now, seen A Little Night Music eight times. Each time, Leigh Ann Larkin gives a most consistent performance. She is always present, she is always interesting, she is always funny, she is always THERE. Her pace never lags. Her volume never drops. Her character never drops. She comes to work each time and delivers and the audiences love her. She brings such a focus to the character, whether she is delivering lines, singing her solo or just watching over the others from the background. She is PRESENT. I love that. She seems to have done her homework, giving the character a backstory that we, the audience, do not know but that we can see exists. She has a worldliness and a tenderness; she has a cynicism and an optimism; she understands the importance of doing her work and the importance of living her life. This is the Petra of whom I dreamed all those years.

After one of the performances I saw (Angela Lansbury was out sick that performance), my friend asked me how was the show last night? I said to him: “everyone seemed to be behind the conductor; nobody was up to the pace of the show.” “EVERYbody?!” “NO” I corrected myself “Not the slutty maid.” He replied “I was going to say.. she was amazing the night I saw it, I didn’t think she would drop the ball.” Well, the truth is, she didn’t. The slutty maid is ALWAYS spot on perfect. I love Petra so much that I have begun referring to myself as the slutty maid in my life. I love the philosophy that Petra attempts to teach the audience in her song:

“There’s a lot I’ll have missed but I’ll not have been dead when I die.”

When Leigh Ann Larkin sings that, I believe it. I believe that, in her work and in her life, Leigh Ann Larkin is going to EAT life. She is going to take it all the way to the limit because that is the way she rolls (I will bet). That is why she is perfect casting for Petra, the slutty maid. We eat life, this slutty maid, that slutty maid and the lady who created her.

I will be watching Leigh Ann Larkin to see what she does next. It can be said: I am a fan. I will be at the next show she is in and the show after that.

This is the beginning of a beautiful fanship.

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