Sunday, January 21, 2018
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Review: 'Quartet,' story of operatic reunion, relies on some old plot twists

BY JOHN FLEMING

Times Staff Writer

Quartet is intended for the same crowd that made The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel a hit. Senior citizen comedy-dramas must be drawing well with baby boomers looking forward to their golden years. Both movies feature Maggie Smith as a crotchety geezer, though she has moved up in class in Quartet. Here she is a retired opera singer as opposed to the salty housekeeper she plays in Exotic.

Quartet also has some appeal for fans of Dustin Hoffman, directing, at 75, his first movie. Oddly, for such an all-American icon, Hoffman's debut is an Anglophile affair, set in a retirement home for stage performers in the bucolic English countryside. It features a cast of top-flight British actors, most of them pushing 80.

Not much happens. Every year, the residents of Beecham House (named for the revered conductor Thomas Beecham) put on a gala fundraising concert to celebrate the birthday of Verdi. This time around, there is more urgency, because the luxurious retirement home has fallen on hard times and needs to raise money to keep the doors open.

Enter Dame Maggie as Jean, a former diva who has reluctantly, unhappily bowed to time and moved into the home, hobbling on a cane as she awaits hip replacement surgery. Once Jean was a superstar, and her fellow residents think that if she can be persuaded to perform, the concert will be a big success. And the program has just the role for her, as part of the famous quartet from Rigoletto, joining three of her contemporaries from bygone productions.

But there's a problem. Jean has sworn off singing since she can't do it at the highest level anymore. And then there's the matter of her operatic partners, especially Reg (Tom Courtenay), her ex-husband who still nurses a grudge from their long-ago marriage. The others in the ensemble include Pauline Collins as Cissy, who is verging on dementia, and Billy Connolly's Wilf, the home's dirty old man.

In a pair of deft character parts, Michael Gambon plays Cedric, the campy impresario of the gala, and Sheridan Smith is Dr. Lucy Cogan, the winsome young physician in residence. Opera singer Gwyneth Jones plays an old rival of Jean's.

Will her aged colleagues persuade Jean to sing again? Will the quartet from Rigoletto save the home? The outcome is never really in doubt.

John Fleming is the Times' performing arts critic. He can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.

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