For theater lovers there can be no greater current pleasure than to witness Bernadette Peters perform the show’s [“A Little Night Music”] signature number, “Send In the Clowns,” with an emotional transparency and musical delicacy that turns this celebrated song into an occasion of transporting artistry. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced with such palpable force--or such prominent goose bumps--the sense of being present at an indelible moment in the history of musical theater...
The halting phrases of the song suggest the overwhelming emotion Desirée is just keeping in check. Ms. Peters invests each brittle line with a full measure of feeling without losing the arc of the music or any of the delicate irony in the lyrics. Despite her sadness Desirée is too generous and too sophisticated to make a melodrama even of her own heartbreak. And yet while Ms. Peters’s Desirée erases her tears with flashing smiles, the inner devastation comes through with moving clarity. Ms. Peters transmits with equal force the sense of Desirée growing into new wisdom about what matters in love--and in life--at long last, and much too late.
-- “Desirée, Making Her Entrance Again,” by Charles Isherwood, in the NYTimes
[Photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times]
PLUS: All about that Clowns song. Stephen Sondheim: “I wanted to use theatrical imagery in the song because she's an actress. But it's not supposed to be a circus; it's supposed to have that circus reference--but a theater reference, meaning, if the show is not going well, let's send in the clowns. In other words, let's do the jokes.”