BWW Reviews: Houston Grand Opera's A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC is Extraordinarily Gorgeous
Ever since it premiered on Broadway in 1973, Stephen Sondheim's A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, with a book by Hugh Wheeler, has been a favorite of musical theatre fans. The Michigan Opera Theatre was the first American opera company to present the piece in 1983, and other companies followed suit. It last graced Houston Grand Opera's (HGO) stages in 1999. Now, the musical, with an extraordinary set and gorgeous costumes by Isaac Mizrahi, is thrilling Houston audiences again with HGO's latest production of this American masterpiece.
A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC is based on Ingmar Bergman's 1955 film Smiles of a Summer Night. Set in Sweden around 1900, the plot follows Fredrik Egerman, a successful middle-aged lawyer, as his marital life clashes with his heart's desires. Anne, Fredrik's 18-year-old trophy wife is still a virgin after 11 months of marriage, is overjoyed when Fredrik comes home with tickets to Desiree Armfeldt's touring play. They see the show, and Fredrik's latent love for Desiree awakens. Throwing a wrench into the bliss of rediscovered longings is Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, who takes issue with his mistress-Desriee-being unfaithful to him. Naturally, Fredik, Anne, Fredik's son Henrik, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, his wife Charlotte, Desiree, Desiree's mother, and Desiree's daughter all convene at the Armfeldt country estate and work out the affairs of the heart.
Isaac Mizrahi originally directed this production when it was done at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in June 2010, but Matthew Ozawa steps into the director's shoes for this spectacular production. Matthew Ozawa grounds the characters and their motives in reality, not allowing the cast to get lost in the melodramatic aspects of the book. Instead, as the complicated vines of love weave together and ensnare the characters in the dangerous games of the heart, we feel as if we are watching real people deal with these complications and not characters ripped from a soap opera. This toned down portrayal doesn't hurt the inherent humor in Stephen Sondheim's sardonic and biting lyrics or Hugh Wheeler's witty book. All the laughs are in place, ensuring that the audience swoons, chuckles, and guffaws throughput the evening.
Conducting the show, Eric Melear brings out all the lush and lavish aspects of the score, filling the Cullen Theater with Stephen Sondheim's elegant melodies. He and the cast attend to each other well, guaranteeing that every number is performed with precision, poise, and power.
Stepping into roles made iconic by the likes of Len Cariou and Hermine Gingold on stage and Elizabeth Taylor on film must be somewhat daunting; however, the cast of HGO's production show no signs of stress here. They each play their roles with integrity and polish, creating characters that completely enthrall the audience.
Chad Shelton sings and acts Fredrik Egerman with a lot of charm, making the audience root for him from beginning to end. His tenor instrument shines on key numbers like "Now," "You Must Meet My Wife," and "It Would Have Been Wonderful." Elizabeth Futral is immaculate as Desireee Armfedlt, singing and playing her with grace and beauty. Her delivery of "Send in the Clowns" is touching and tender, and she shines on other numbers like "You Must Meet My Wife." Soprano Andrea Carroll's Anne Egerman is youthful and wonderfully naïve. She sings "Soon" and "Every Day a Little Death" with a dazzling timbre. As Henrik Egerman, Brenton Ryan is delightfully dark and gloomy. His tenor voice is perfect on "Later."
Baritone Mark Diamond as Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, Mezzo-Soprano Carolyn Sproule as Countess Charlotte Malcolm, Mezzo-Soprano Joyce Castle as Madame Armfeldt, and Soprano Alicia Gianni as Petra all do respectable and laudable work with their roles and solos. Each one commits to crafting an intriguing character that makes the production all the more entertaining and rich.
Additionally, Baritone Samuel Schultz as Mr. Lindquist, Soprano Uliana Alexyuk as Mrs. Nordstom, Soprano Natalya Romaniw as Mrs. Anderssen, Tenor Scott Quinn as Mr. Erlanson, and Mezzo-Soprano Sarah Mesko as Mrs. Segstrom do remarkable work as the singing chorus. Each of their Night Waltzes is absolutely breathtaking and robustly sung. They capably fill the auditorium with sound, and sing the infectious melodies in such a manner that we can't help but have them stuck in our minds for days.
As Fredrika Armfeldt, Grace Muir creates a character this is perceptive and a pure joy to watch. In many ways, her Fredrika is the smartest character in the production, observing and understanding everything that is going on around her often with more clarity than the adults she is interacting with.
Isaac Mizrahi's Scenic Design is striking and looks fabulous on the stage. The use of vibrant green grass and large trees makes the show come to life with a zealously idyllic quality and places the production somewhere in the crossroads of INTO THE WOODS and A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM.
Costume Design by Isaac Mizrahi is simply sumptuous, perfectly capturing the fashions of the early 1900s. The color palettes for the decadent clothing are mostly whites and crèmes, making the minimal uses of colored fabrics more apparent and important.
Brian Nason's Lighting Design beautifully plays with the theme of perpetual sunset, keeping the stage draped in lights that are reminiscent of the last few minutes of a warm, spring day. This choice adds a lot of sentimentality to the work and highlights the emotions present in the piece.
This production of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC is one of the best musical productions to grace Houston stages since I started writing for BroadwayWorld. Every element works together to deliver a magnificently picturesque and altogether extravagant presentation of one of my favorite musicals. At opening night, save for a minor technical issue with the upstage cyclorama, each and every aspect of the production was perfectly in place, and the end product was a truly lovely and joyous evening of theatre.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission.
Houston Grand Opera's A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC runs at The Wortham Theater Center's Cullen Theater, 500 Texas Avenue, Houston, 77002 now through March 23, 2014. Performances are March 13, 15, 18, 19, 20, and 22 at 8:00 p.m. and March 23 at 2:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, please visit http://www.houstongrandopera.org or call (713) 228-OPERA (6737).
Andrea Carroll, Anne Egerman; Chad Shelton, Fredrik Egerman
Andrea Carroll, Anne Egerman; Chad Shelton, Fredrik Egerman
Brenton Ryan, Henrik Egerman; Alicia Gianni, Petra
Elizabeth Futral, Desiree Armfeldt
Natalya Romaniw, Mrs. Anderssen; Scott Quinn, Mr. Erlanson; Uliana Alexyuk, Mrs. Nordstrom; Samuel Schultz, Mr. Lindquist; Sarah Mesko, Mrs. Segstrom
Joyce Castle, Madame Armfeldt
Mark Diamond, Count Malcolm; Carolyn Sproule, Countess Malcolm
Carolyn Sproule, Countess Malcolm; Andrea Carroll, Anne Egerman
Uliana Alexyuk, Mrs. Nordstrom; Samuel Schultz, Mr. Lindquist; Andrea Carroll, Anne Egerman; Chad Shelton, Fredrik Egerman; Scott Quinn, Mr. Erlanson; Natalya Romaniw, Mrs. Anderssen; Mark Diamond, Count Malcolm; Carolyn Sproule, Countess Malcolm
Chad Shelton, Fredrik Egerman; Elizabeth Futral, Desiree Armfeldt; Mark Diamond, Count Malcolm
Mark Diamond, Count Malcolm; Carolyn Sproule, Countess Malcolm; Uliana Alexyuk, Mrs. Nordstrom; Brenton Ryan, Henrik Egerman; Andrea Carroll, Anne Egerman; Scott Quinn, Mr. Erlanson; Elizabeth Futral, Desiree Armfeldt; Chad Shelton, Fredrik Armfeldt; Abhishek Pratap, Indian Prince
Luke Fedell, Frid; Joyce Castle, Madame Armfeldt
Chad Shelton, Frederik Egerman; Elizabeth Futral, Desiree Armfeldt