Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Natasha Richardson


The details of Richardson's sudden death are being reported around the globe, as her fame and that of her theatrical family make her skiing accident international news. Her resemblance to her mother Vanessa Redgrave is striking, particularly when hearing her speak in her own voice. The first time I ever encountered it, she and her husband Liam Neeson were providing introductory commentary on the revival of The Man Who Came to Dinner, starring Nathan Lane and being broadcast live on PBS.

To my own surprise and embarrassment, I have never seen a performance of Ms. Richardson's, on stage nor on film. Like everyone else on the planet, I have always been aware of her mother's illustrious career, and was lucky enough to catch Vanessa on stage at the Kennedy Center a few years ago, playing Hecuba. (I recall thinking that she swiped the film version of The Trojan Women from star Katherine Hepburn years ago, though I'm not sure that opinion withstands the test of time.) Natasha's grandparents included Sir Michael Redgrave and the fine actress Rachel Kempson, who worked until her death at age 92 (PBS freaks will remember her small but vivid performance as Lady Manners in The Jewel in the Crown). Her sister Joely has been on my radar since I ran across Nip/Tuck on TV, and I have already mentioned the personal interaction I had with her aunt Lynn Redgrave. Her uncle is the acclaimed British actor Corin Redgrave, and her father was film director Tony Richardson.

But I'm a bit ashamed to admit that Natasha Richardson's performances have escaped my view. Her stage work included what was reportedly a revelatory Anna Christie on Broadway, and she won the Tony for the acclaimed revival of Cabaret in the mid-90s (she has my sincere admiration and gratitude for showing that many musical theatre roles are best played by actors who sing, rather than singers who try to act. Her performance was so finely tuned, nobody cared that her singing voice was not that of the typical Broadway chanteuse). I've missed her film work, too, which consisted of a healthy mix of small indie films (A Month in the Country, Asylum, The Comfort of Strangers) and the occasional big-budget flick (The Parent Trap, Maid in Manhattan).

Her greatest achievements were surely on stage, and included Nina in The Seagull and Blanche in Streetcar Named Desire. Most recently she played opposite her mother in the concert staging of A Little Night Music.

She leaves behind two sons by her husband Liam Neeson, and of course, her extended family of Redgraves and Richardsons, probably comprising the most acclaimed theatrical dynasty of the late 20th century.