Sublime ‘Blithe’ revival satisfies


Lansbury’s loopy medium channels another classic performance

It is rare indeed to see a Broadway revival of a classic play that satisfies on so many levels. Director Michael Blakemore’s production of the 1941 Noel Coward farce “Blithe Spirit” superbly assembles an all-star cast that is truly brilliant. Everything works here — from the lavish sets to the razor-sharp direction of the talented ensemble. That said, however, the main reason to see the show is the incomparable Angela Lansbury. 

The 83-year-old Lansbury gives one of the most trenchant performances of her career. As wacky medium Madame Arcati, Lansbury is pure onstage dynamite. With her colorful costumes, gaudy jewelry and big, doll-like eyes heavily circled with thick eyeliner, she looks the part of a lovable psychic. During a hilarious séance, Madame Arcati conjures up the spirit of wisecracking Elvira (the marvelous Christine Ebersole), the deceased first wife of debonair English writer Charles Condomine (Rupert Everett) — much to the disgust of his second wife, Ruth (Jayne Atkinson). 

The audience laughed nonstop as Lansbury’s character went into a trance to bring Elvira back from the dead. Lansbury, delivering her lines with rapid-fire eloquence and animated body language, never fails to steal the show in every scene. 

Rupert Everett is delightfully droll as Charles, letting Noel Coward’s witty one-liners roll off his tongue with natural aplomb. The all-American actress Christine Ebersole, as Elvira, has all the ethereal qualities of a happy-go-lucky ghost. Her performance is so energetic and her comic timing so perfect, one easily overlooks her mediocre attempt at a British accent.  

Newcomer Susan Louise O’Connor, as the Condomines’ scatterbrained maid Edith, is sheer comic magic — like a British Lucille Ball.  O’Connor has a true gift for physical comedy, such as when she drops a tray after seeing Elvira’s ghost.  She mines the exquisite material beautifully and keeps audiences in stitches whenever she’s on stage.

Simon Jones and Deborah Rush as Doctor and Mrs. Bradford, a couple invited to participate in the séance, are adequately amusing, but the rest of the cast often overshadow their performances. Regardless, this excellent revival of “Blithe Spirit” is not the least bit dated and is one of the highlights of the spring 2009 season. It’s a must-see for fans of Angela Lansbury and the vintage comedy of Noel Coward.