When stage and screen legend Angela Lansbury makes her first entrance in the Broadway revival of Noel Coward’s frothy 1941 comedy Blithe Spirit nearly fifteen minutes into the performance, the multiple Tony award winning grande dame practically stops the show. The extended applause comes in waves that ebb and flow for a full two minutes or more drowning out the dialogue as the actors move right along with the enthusing action without skipping a beat. They carry on as if unaware of the stupendous outpouring of love coming across the footlights. The Broadway icon, now 83 years old, inhabits the eccentric Madame Arcati, the psychic medium who is the catalyst for the unfolding action. She turns Arcati into a spirited force weaving magic in the process.
Decked out in outlandishly lavish attire by costumer Martin Pakledinaz, she is utterly hilarious as the zany Arcati in a seemingly effortless display of idiosyncratic behaviors that never seem weird, but rather rich with mirthful charm. You never know what she is going to do next and when she launches into her dance as a prelude to going into a trance state she is a side splitting riot.
Every member of the dazzling cast come up to Lansbury’s level once the actress sets foot on stage making for a devilishly delicious evening of theater. Rupert Everett is debonair as the novelist Charles Condomine, who has invited Arcati to his little dinner party of four, as a lark while compiling research for his latest novel.
However, his attempt to exploit the medium backfires, when Arcati unleashes the naughty ghost of his deceased first wife, Elvira played by a heavenly Christine Ebersole (last year’s Tony award winning actress for Grey Gardens), who floats about the stage draped in flowing chiffon, another one of costumer’s Pakledinaz’s inspired creations.
The tension and fun unfold to the accumulating dismay of the novelist’s second wife Ruth, rendered here with solid disbelief by the accomplished Jayne Atkinson, giving the unfolding action an earthbound counterpoint to the evening’s other worldly shenanigans. The moment Ruth discovers the ghost of Elvira is actually present results in hilarious pandemonium.
Director Michael Blakemore keeps the evening at a zany pace, while eliciting high comic style from his expert cast, both necessary elements, for the delightful revival of the Coward classic.
By: Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published in Dan’s Papers
Blithe Spirit is playing on Broadway at the Shubert Theater, 225 West 44th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue. For tickets call 212-239-6200.