BWW Reviews: etc Offers an Intimate Production of Sondheim's Sophisticated A Little Night Music

A Little Night Music/book by Hugh Wheeler/music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim/directed by Jonathan Fox/Ensemble Theatre Company (etc) at the New Vic, Santa Barbara/through December 22 only

Based on Ingmar Bergman's film Smiles of a Summer Night, Sondheim's 1973 A Little Night Music is perhaps one of the loveliest of his early musicals... musically, thematically...a sweeping theatrical triumph treating the romantic lives of several couples. Ensemble Theatre Company (etc) of Santa Barbara is currently presenting a diamond of a revival in their new home at the New Vic through December 22 only.

Set in Sweden in the early 20th. century, there is an unqualified elegant style in the way the people conduct themselves in spite of their involvement in an overabundance of illicit sexual escapades. How to come out shining with some form of dignity seems to be the priority! Aging stage actress Desiree Armfeldt (Stephanie Zimbalist) tours, leaving her illegitimate daughter Fredrika (Erika Foreman, Emily Cummings) at home in the country with her old, terribly wise and dignified mother Madame Armfeldt (Piper Laurie). Lawyer Fredrik Egerman (Patrick Cassidy), married 11 months to Anne (Carly Bracco), a mere 17 year-old, has had past affairs with Desiree and is feeling particularly needy as his young wife remains a virgin. Desiree is also receiving visits from Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (JorDan Miller), a soldier, who on leave splits his time with her and his put-upon wife Countess Charlotte Malcolm (Heather Ayers). In the Egerman household also resides Henrik (Max Miller), Frederik's son from a previous marriage who is burning secretly for Anne. Even the servants have their sexual dalliances especially Petra (Misty Cotton) who wastes no time, flirting with just about everyone, with Frid, the miller's son (Michael Byrne) the object of her true affections. When Frederik pops unexpectedly back into Desiree's life, she hatches a weekend in the country to try and snatch him up, as her own life is in need of alteration. Of course, what happens to all of them in the course of this infamous weekend, is the point of the play, where everyone undergoes transformation, mostly for the good.

Sondheim's music is often referred to as operatic in A Little Night Music; in fact, the show has been called a chamber opera, and the five-piece orchestra is clearly visible onstage as the couples perform a gavotte, waltzing around them. Sondheim's music is nothing less than lush with perhaps some of the most clever lyrics he has ever written, really digging into the character's follies and innermost flaws. "Send in the Clowns", "The Glamorous Life", "Remember?", "You Must Meet My Wife" - deliciously decadent as is "The Miller's Son", "Every Day a Little Death", so subtle yet brutally honest, and Madame Armfeldt's brave yet fragile "Liaisons" all evoke an unsurpassed beauty and wisdom that is unforgettable.

Under Joanathan Fox's splendid staging, the ensemble are truly marvelous, led by the ever-resilient Zimbalist as Desiree. She captures all the style and grace of this woman, with every nuance of fear and despair crystal clear. Her "Send in the Clowns" is stunning. Cassidy brings much humanity to Frederik, a lonely, compassionate man, full of anxiety in his mid-life crisis. Bracco is all innocence with a gorgeous voice as Anne, and Max Miller steals the hour as Henrik overlooked and fed up with his miserable plight. JorDan Miller is appropriately obnoxious as the Count and Heather Ayers is a marvel as Charlotte, really capturing the lost elegance of this woman. Cotton is fiery and feisty as Petra, delivering ecstasy with "The Miller's Son". Piper Laurie is glorious to watch as Madame Armfeldt, such a wonderful actress, who soaks in everything that she is listening to with the utmost care, so vibrantly atuned to every moment she breathes. Kudos as well to Deborah Bertling as Malla, a rather thankless role that she keeps alive with some lovely singing in rapid exits and entrances. The exquisite chamber orchestra consists of Emily Sommermann on violin, Kathryn Mendenhall on cello, Trey Farrell on the reed instruments, Michelle Temple on harp and musical conductor David Potter at the piano. Harry Feiner's scenic design is evocatively colorful with its riveting purple and green hues, and Kate Bergh's costumes right on the money.

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Don Grigware Don Grigware is an Ovation nominated actor and writer whose contributions to theatre through the years have included 6 years as theatre editor of NoHoLA, a contributor to LA Stage Magazine and currently on his own website:

Don hails from Holyoke, Massachusetts and holds two Masters Degrees from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in Education and Bilingual Studies. He is a teacher of foreign language and ESL.

Don is in his fifth year with BWW, currently serving as Senior Editor of the Los Angeles Page.

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