Natasha Richardson starred on Broadway in a quintet of strikingly different productions — each one demonstrating why the actress was a true daughter of the theater, a worthy member of an illustrious acting dynasty.
Richardson, who died Wednesday in a Manhattan hospital following a skiing accident in Canada, was loyal to the stage throughout her career (even while having a film career that included “Gothic,” '‘Patty Hearst,” '‘Nell” and “The Parent Trap”).
Her most prominent New York appearance came a decade ago in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s long-running revival of “Cabaret,” for which she won a 1998 best-actress Tony.
Her blond, bobbed Sally Bowles was a lost child-woman, vulnerable and sexy at the same time. Richardson’s extravagant portrait wisely didn’t mimic Liza Minnelli’s memorable film performance. Theactress was not a singer, but her chilling rendition of the show’s title tune got the genuine terror found beneath the song’s cheery lyrics.
Richardson, schooled in the classics on stage in London, made her Broadway debut in 1993 in another Roundabout revival, Eugene O’Neill’s “Anna Christie.” In it, she played the title character, an unhappy young woman who falls from grace into the world’s oldest profession.
Using a flat, nondescript Midwestern accent with just a trace of Swedish (Greta Garbo starred in the movie version), she projected an eerie sadness touched with more than a little youthful defiance.
Her co-star was Liam Neeson (also making his Broadway bow) as the big, gruff seafaring man who loves her. Their electricity was palpable on stage; they later married. In the production, which was superbly directed by David Leveaux, the two were evenly matched, able to surmount some of O’Neill’s hoariest dialogue — ruminations about “dat ole davil sea” abound — and raise the stature of a difficult, rarely seen melodrama to great theater.
A year after “Cabaret,” Richardson returned to Broadway in 1999’s “Closer,” Patrick Marber’s scathing look at love and sex and the end of the 20th century. With an impeccable world-weariness, she played an arty photographer, one member of a quartet of characters who couple, uncouple and recouple with remarkable dexterity.
The actress came back to the Roundabout in 2005 to play one of the most famous roles in modern American drama, Blanche DuBois, in a revival of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Richardson’s desperate Southern belle was more flinty than fragile, displaying a steeliness not usually found in this vulnerable, mentally unraveling woman. The actress excelled at disintegration, capturing Blanche’s descent into madness with an unnerving dramatic intensity.
Richardson’s most recent New York appearancewas brief — a one-night-only, benefit-concert performance earlier this year of “A Little Night Music,” the Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical based on Ingmar Bergman’s film “Smiles of a Summer Night.”
The show — a rueful recollection of love, old and new, wise and foolish — offered Richardson a chance to play the daughter to her real-life mother, Vanessa Redgrave.
There were tantalizing rumors that mother and daughter would star in a full production on Broadway, a wish that now will be sadly unrealized.
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