At 89 years old, Angela Lansbury is delightfully dotty and fun in the Noël Coward comedy Blithe Spirit, which opened tonight at the Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. The actress is reprising her Tony Award-winning role of Madame Arcati, and is the main reason to see this internationally acclaimed production.
Blithe Spirit is about a novelist, Charles Condomine, who invites the quirky medium Madame Arcati to his home to conduct a séance as research for his next book. During the evening, the mystic Arcati unfortunately summons the ghost of Charles’ dead first wife Elvira. While only visible to Charles, Elvira wreaks havoc and torments Charles’ new wife Ruth. Now, Charles and Ruth need Arcati’s help in removing Elvira and restoring the peace. Needless to say, things do not go as planned.
The Noël Coward comedy first debuted on Broadway and in London during 1941. In London, it ran for almost 2,000 performances. The piece, which is witty fluff, features his usual sharp dialog delivered with aplomb. Some classic lines include “It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit,” and “That was a very tiresome question, dear, and fully deserves the wrong answer.”
Lansbury has played Madame Arcati in London, on Broadway (for which she won her fifth Tony Award in 2009 for Best Featured Actress in a Play) and now – remarkably for her age – is starting a four-month North American tour in Blithe Spirit. The Michael Blakemore-directed production will be in Los Angeles through January 18, before going to San Francisco, Toronto and then Washington, D.C.
Lansbury is known for 70 years of work including Gaslight, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Murder She Wrote, Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast, Sweeny Todd and countless other roles. Besides the status for Blithe Spirit, she has won four other Tony Awards and been nominated two other times. She was also nominated 18 times for an Emmy Award, three times for Oscars and 15 times for Golden Globes (winning six). She does odds dances to capture spiritual vibrations and uses her expressive face to the fullest in creating her comical Arcati.
Other cast members include Charles Edwards (Edith’s missing baby daddy in Downton Abbey) as the urbane and polished Charles Condomine, a role he also played in London. He is winning and funny as the man torn and taunted by both women. Susan Louise O’Connor makes the most of the scene-stealing role of Edith, the new maid. The actress is physically funny in the way she moves as Edith, interacts with the characters and serves tea. Charlotte Parry is appropriately upper crust and frustrated as Ruth. Jemima Rooper, however, seemed a bit over the top as Elvira.
While the audience warmly welcomes Edwards, they burst into loud applause for Lansbury, making it clear they admire her lengthy resume and her stamina. While Blithe Spirit may seem dated, Angela Lansbury at 89 does not and is delightful.
By Dyanne Weiss