The Top 10 Broadway Musical Replacements

By Ben Rimalower
31 Aug 2013


Elaine Stritch and Bernadette Peters
photo by Joan Marcus

Bernadette Peters as Desiree Armfeldt in A Little Night Music

If a few years ago, you had asked me to pick a role I'd like to see Bernadette Peters play, it would not have been Desiree. (I would have chosen Sally Durant Plummer in Follies, which role I did get to see Peters essay in the recent revival, but that's the subject for another column...) I don't know that I would have thought of Catherine Zeta-Jones for Desiree either, but as a beautiful, if salty, 40-something actress, Zeta-Jones came much closer to the mark. Unfortunately, the performance Zeta-Jones delivered didn't do it for me. I felt like she wished she were doing Guys and Dolls or Hello, Dolly! or something, like she was so eager for the chance to belt and show off the musical skills she proved in (the film) Chicago that she missed the boat completely on Desiree's world-weary wistfulness and overshot Desiree's resourceful pluck.

Peters, on the other hand, was enchanting. Ravishingly believable as a woman decades her junior, she effortlessly encapsulated Desiree's lot in life with the smallest of gestures, read large thanks to Peters' rare authority on a Broadway stage. And if anyone has the career history to resist the temptation to oversing "Send In The Clowns," it's Peters. Surely she's already had her share of chances to sing Sondheim straight to the rafters, and so, unlike Zeta-Jones, she was able to play her big song with the economy and simplicity necessary to keep it grounded within the anti-climactic scene in which it appears. Furthermore, Peters' trademark vulnerability added a layer of emotion to what had previously been a somewhat cold production. And it was a double star replacement because Peters went into the show alongside Elaine Stritch taking over for Angela Lansbury as Madame Armfeldt. It was an extremely noteworthy recasting and a wonderful night at the theatre.  Continued...