Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Natasha Richardson (1963-2009)

I, like everyone, am totally devastated by the sudden death of Natasha Richardson. The term 'life force' seems trite but that is what she was: a woman who powered through life and fascinated everyone she encountered. I have been thinking about the times I spent with her since I heard the news of her tragic accident, and the strongest memory I have is of her laughter, her unmistakeable throaty laugh. I think that's a great way to remember someone.
Alan Cumming

By Edward Copeland
Hattip to Nathaniel R. for leading me to the Alan Cumming quote. The first notice I took of Natasha Richardson was in one of her earliest films, Paul Schrader's Patty Hearst in 1988. The film itself is one of those I like to call a brilliant mess. It was flawed, yet somehow perfect and a great deal of its perfection came from Richardson's performance in the title role. Her family announced Wednesday night that she had succumbed to the head injuries she'd suffered earlier in the week in a skiing accident. She was 45.

Her film career was rather light and she tended to concentrate on the stage and being a mom. I was fortunate enough to see her on Broadway twice. The first time was in her Tony-winning turn as Sally Bowles in the revival of Cabaret. I've never been that big a fan of the movie version of Cabaret, it always felt as if something was missing. The revival opened it up for me as a piece that had much more to it than just a great score. While most of the cast of the revival were great, Richardson was the true standout.

I also saw her when the play Closer came to Broadway in the role Julia Roberts would get in the movie version. The play was better than the movie and Richardson was good, but it was really a story about the two men. I didn't see her Broadway debut in Anna Christie which won her a Tony nomination and a future husband in Liam Neeson. I also missed her Blanche DuBois in a revival of A Streetcar Named Desire.

Recently, she was part of a one-night only staged reading of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music which also included her mother, Vanessa Redgrave. Josh R was one of the lucky ones who saw it so perhaps he can share, though hopes of a mother-daughter Broadway transfer now sadly are dashed.

The handful of features she made I either never saw (such as the remake of The Parent Trap), had tried to block out (such as Nell) or never heard of (Past Midnight). Still, there were a couple of hidden gems. She gave a delightful performance among a bevy of old pros in Widows' Peak.

She also was good (even though the film bored me) and got to work with mom Vanessa and Aunt Lynn in James Ivory's The White Countess.

RIP Ms. Richardson.

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I was lucky enough see Ms. Richardson's final performance in a concert staging of A Little Night Music two months ago, and had the opportunity to meet and speak with her briefly afterwards - she spoke enthusiastically about future ventures, which will now sadly never come to pass. While never a household name, the actress successfully emerged from the shadow of her more famous relations to create a strikingly original impression, particularly in her work as a stage actress. She appeared in three productions for the company I work for - Anna Christie, Cabaret and A Streetcar Named Desire - and had actively served on our Leadership Council for several years. In everything I ever had the pleasure of seeing her in - particularly her magnificent performance in Cabaret, where I had the good fortune to see from a mere few feet away - she was always a compelling and distinctive presence, with an intuitive understanding of the naked vulnerability and self-destructive impulses of characters uncertain of their place in the world. One of the reasons she did not work as frequently as her fans may have liked was because she devoted a great deal of time and energy to her work as an eloquent activist for AIDS-related campaigns and charities - her father had died from HIV-related causes in the early 90s, and the issues of prevention and a the search for a cure were clearly ones great deal of personal resonance for her. Hearing people's heartfelt reminiscences about her throughout the day today, it is strikingly apparent what a great loss this has been for not only for her family and friends, but for the theatrical community as a whole.
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