Theatre Mirror Reviews - "A Little Night Music"

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note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi


"A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC"

music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
book by Hugh Wheeler
suggested by a film by Ingmar Bergman
originally produced and directed on Broadway by Harold Prince

directed by David Kaye
musical direction by William Asher

Mr. Linquist … Jamie Cepero
Mrs. Nordstrom … Ashley St. Martin
Mrs. Anderssen … Cary Davis
Mr. Elanson … Jon Roth
Mrs. Segstrom … Jennifer Senecal
Fredrika Armfelt … Hannah Forsley
Madame Armfeldt … Maggie Mark
Frid … Josh Moore
Henrik Egerman … Dan Beaulieu
Anne Egerman … Megan Quinn
Fredrik Egerman… Steven Dascoulias
Petra … Laurie Ewer
Desiree Armfeldt … Maryann Zschau
Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm …Joe Cooper
Countess Charlotte Malcolm … Grace Sumner

Orchestra:

Piano; Synthesizer … William Asher
Cello … Gary Hodges
Flute; Piccolo; Clarinet … Charlie Stancampiano

Considering that infidelity makes up much of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, Stephen Sondheim’s musical is faithful to its source: Ingmar Bergman’s film SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT, set in Sweden in the early 1900s. Fredrik Egerman, an aging lawyer, is married to Anne, his much younger, still-virginal bride who, in turn, is enamored by Fredrik’s grown son Henrik from a previous marriage. Finding himself playing a father figure instead of a husband, Fredrik is drawn back to his former mistress Desiree Armfeldt, an actress who is currently the jealously-guarded property of Count Carl-Magnus, a pompous dragoon married to the long-suffering Charlotte who aides and abets him in his affairs; Petra, the Egermans’ lusty maid starts out as Henrik’s teacher of Love and Life and ends up in the hay with Frid, a butler. Commenting on the action are the very old (Madame Armfeldt, Desiree’s mother and a former mistress of kings, herself), the very young (Fredrika, Desiree’s --- and possibly, Fredrik’s --- clear-eyed daughter) and a quintet in evening dress who wander throughout as a Chorus. SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT is an Indian summer comedy filtered through an ironic worldliness; there is a coolness to A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC that tickles the intellect but, aside from “Send in the Clowns”, leaves the heart untouched. This coolness lies not so much in Hugh Wheeler’s libretto but in Mr. Sondheim’s restless, complex score which is often out of sync with the storyline’s winking at human nature; A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC was Mr. Sondheim’s third creation with the Broadway team that reinvented the American musical with COMPANY and FOLLIES --- two beautiful, daring works --- and it was NIGHT MUSIC that began my parting from Mr. Sondheim’s company: what had been fresh and necessary was quickly becoming the Golden Rule and Mr. Sondheim’s despairing vision may have been heaven-sent for many but not for all; judging by the profusion of jukebox musicals, Disney adaptations and pure fluff now on Broadway, Mr. Sondheim’s moment seems to have passed and where New York theatre points, regional theatres follow and musical artists who want to eat must make do with song-and-dance, again. (Cycles, cycles, cycles…) All artists are on a timeline whether they realize it or not and Mr. Sondheim’s canon will prove too edgy for nostalgia’s sake (cozy, he is not); I predict, in time, that he will be turned to whenever a national issue is at hand (i.e. ASSASSINS during an election year) or the next definitive Mrs. Lovett makes SWEENEY TODD a must-see Event or the public wants some window-smashing but groans at the thought of yet another THREEPENNY OPERA. (Cycles, again.) Herbert, Friml, Romberg, Kern, Berlin, Gershwin, Porter, Rodgers & Hart, Weill, Arlen, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Lane, Lerner & Lowe, Bernstein, Loesser, Kander & Ebb, Sondheim…an impressive timeline staffed with men who created a tradition, maintained it or changed it, and Mr. Sondheim bringing up the rear may explain why he is still clung to like wreckage in a tossing sea --- who else has succeeded or surpassed him?

The Seacoast Repertory Theatre’s production of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC will have closed by the time you read these scribbles but it was worth attending both for Maryann Zschau’s reprise of Desiree, which earned her an Addison two seasons ago at the Lyric Stage, and to see her professionalism add luster to an ensemble composed, for the most part, of still-green talent. Ms. Zschau is becoming one of Boston’s more adventurous artists: this past summer she was a magnificent character actress in the Reagle’s THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE and here she went back to every actor’s roots --- community theatre --- in the tradition of stage stars of old who graced humble boards with their presence (sadly, most stage actors upon attaining Equity status turn their backs on their non-Equity brethren; I cannot recall the last Equity face glimpsed at a community performance, and I know my audiences). The proof of Ms. Zschau’s generosity was in the pudding: her Lyric Desiree was a subtle, layered creation; her Seacoast Desiree became simpler, lighter, blending in with the ensemble --- paradoxically, that lightness coupled with Ms. Zschau’s vocal ease made her the youngest of them all, including the wooden little Fredrika. Whenever Ms. Zschau was absent, the ensemble sawed away at their roles --- and heavy-handed, inarticulate Sondheim is deadly dull --- but when Ms. Zschau was present, Megan Quinn’s hard-faced, romping Anne became softer and more feline when up against her rival and Joe Cooper’s handsome, well-fed Carl-Magnus, who bellowed more than sang, focused on Ms. Zschau with smoldering, bull-like ardor. On the other hand, Maggie Mark’s Madame Armfeldt was more the ex-nanny than the ex-mistress of kings, Grace Sumner yowled her Charlotte so that my sympathy soon lay with Carl-Magnus, and Dan Beaulieu’s Henrik was far too troubled even for a Sondheim musical. Laurie Ewer showed the most promise: her tall, womanly Petra was not only believable in her sensuality but Ms. Ewer showed a good-enough command of the Sondheim style in “The Miller’s Son”.

Steven Dascoulias, a Seacoast regular, had previously appeared with Ms. Zschau at the Lyric Stage and theirs is an ideal pairing of opposites: sparkling cider (she) meets smooth Irish cream (he). Like Mr. Cooper, above, Mr. Dascoulias is also handsome and portly --- this could start a vogue for full-figured leading men --- and his Frederik was a kind, sophisticated paterfamilias flummoxed only by his wife’s stubborn virginity; next to him, Ms. Zschau’s previous Fredrik was a clueless schoolboy. Mr. Dascoulias’ superb baritone was put to the test by being rushed through Fredrik’s patter-lyrics --- one would think COMPANY’s “I’m Not Getting Married Today” would be his encore --- but Mr. Dascoulias’ diction remained clear and nimble. The Seacoast production jelled whenever the two leads were alone, together, especially during Act Two’s “Send in the Clowns” scene though, once again, Ms. Zschau was directed to rise and pace before sitting down again for the song’s conclusion, thus disrupting the languid mood. Should Ms. Zschau take on Desiree for a third time --- preferably, with Mr. Dascoulias as her Fredrik --- may the “Clowns” find this donna to be immobile; an opera pun on which Mr. Verdi would agree.

"A Little Night Music" (15 September - 15 October)
THE SEACOAST REPERTORY THEATRE
125 Bow Street, PORTSMOUTH, NH
1 (603) 433-4793

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