My Favourite Musical Songs: #18
18. Send in the Clowns from A Little Night Music (Performed by Dame Judi Dench for the 1998 Royal Charity Gala Concert ‘Hey, Mr Producer!’)
We are still in the female solo section of tonight’s entertainment. Something at the other end of the spectrum in terms of presentation but no less powerful. While Effie took her pain and turned into noise, Desiree from ‘A Little Night Music’ recognises the taste of disappointment and is merely resigned and quietly humiliated. An ageing actress, who becomes more aware of her age when her Ex shows up with a young virgin wife, attempts to accept his rejection with dignity and just about pulls it off. She is vulnerable but still needing to put on the show biz act which just makes it that little bit sadder.
This performance is a master class in acting from everybody’s favourite national treasure: The sublime Dame Judi Dench. Is she vocally superb? No. Can she even sing? No. Does she deliver the show’s big number even without vocal gymnastics? Oh hells yes. Another emotional, relatable (who hasn’t wanted to skip the awkward part and just go back to joking around after getting hurt?) utterly painful song that is so slow and simple you can get lost in Sondheim’s score and her portrayal. Then when it ends you are brought back to reality, with a startle. Always brings a tear to my eye and as close to real life as spontaneous singing can get. Until the end of the musical when the young wife conveniently falls in love with her husband’s son and so Desiree gets her man back. Because who needs character growth??? Me. I do. Stupid happy endings.
OTHER NOTABLE VERSIONS: Too many to count but I will select a few for the purposes of this bit:
The song was written for the beautiful Glynis Johns who originated the role of Desiree on Broadway. You may know her best as the enthusiastic suffragette and terrible mother from Mary Poppins. Her interpretation is very good although a little fast for my taste, I prefer the way Dench savours her delivery:
Weirdly, Frank Sinatra recorded it. It doesn’t work for me at all although of course he sounds great and suitably melancholic. But…it is not a man’s song or a swing standard so he has strayed quite far from his wheelhouse:
If none of these appeal to you, you picky beggar, then Catherine Zeta Jones has had a fair whack at it in recent years ending with a Tony Award for her efforts:
The all conquering Streisand has a version, if that is your thing:
And even Elizabeth Taylor portrayed Desiree in the 1977 movie version and therefore tackled a Sondheim score which is not a task for the faint hearted. But then, Ms Taylor was never that:
The list goes on…I have noticed ‘Send in the Clowns’ has been trotted out for competitors in reality TV casting shows on more than one occasion despite being an entirely inappropriate choice for the younger actress. I am not saying the pathos of the words and the beauty of the melody fails to be effective in the hands of an 18 year old…Oh no wait. Yes I am. Sorry Jenny from ‘Over the Rainbow.’ Hope the Panto is going well:
What I am trying to say is…Judi wins. All hail Queen Jude.
BEST MOMENT: 2.36 the delivery of ‘I thought that you’d want what I want’ makes up for her lack of belt. The vocal ability to project while singing, that is. I care not what holds up the Dench’s trousers. I also enjoy her coyness at the end, with her ‘Who? Me?’ smile. She knows she’s awesome. And I can only bow to her.
Seriously. Long live the Queen.