BWW Review: A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC is Superb, Sublime Sondheim
A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler. Inspired by the Ingmar Bergman film Smiles of a Summer Night, it involves the romantic lives of several couples. Since its original 1973 Broadway production, the musical has been produced in the West End, by opera companies, and in a 2009 Broadway revival. It was adapted for film in 1977. It received Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Original Score.
Set at the turn of the last century, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC is a tangled web of former and current lovers among the elite. Lawyer Fredrik Egerman (Huck Huckaby) has recently married the younger Anne (Sarah Becker), and their marriage remains unconsummated. His son, Henrik (Connor Barr), has also fallen madly in love with Anne. Fredrik's dedication to his virginal child bride gets tested when his former flame, famed actress Desiree Armfeldt (Boni Hester), and he reunite. Further complications arise when her jealous and married lover Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Jerreme Rodriguez) becomes aware of their reunion. The coupling and uncoupling comes to a climax when Desirée convinces her mother, Madame Armfeldt (Mary Agen Cox) to host Fredrik, Henrik and Fredrick's wife, Anne for a weekend on her country estate where her daughter, Fredrika (Sebe Shearer) resides. Along for the weekend is the Egerman's maid Petra (Molly Karrasch). Things get complicated when Desirée's current lover, the Count, and the Count's wife, Charlotte (Lara Wright) show up uninvited. Acting as a sort of musical Greek chorus is a quintet of singers (Jerreme Rodriguez, Sarah Fleming Walker, Devin Medley, Richard Roberts and Natalie Cummings).
The challenging score for A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC has elements not often found in musical theater including complex meters, pitch changes, polyphony, and high notes for both males and females. The score contains patter songs, contrapuntal duets and trios, a quartet, and even a dramatic double quintet all in waltz time. Sondheim's engagement with threes extends to his lyrics and vocal arrangements. There are trios with singers separated and duets sung about a third person.
Happily, this is one of the finer productions I have seen of this difficult Sondheim work. Not only is the score beautifully sung, but the acting is arch and witty never missing a single chance to point up alternate meanings. A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC has an elegance, beauty and richness that are the reason it is considered one of the great musicals of modern musical theater.
Director Don Toner keeps the piece moving briskly with sharply executed scene changes and has kept the wit in the script at an equal importance to the score. Lyn Koenning gets a wonderfully rich tonal quality from the cast with flawless vocal execution. The choreography by Danny Herman and Rocker Verastique is just right for the space and flows elegantly. Mike Toner's set design is both spare and sumptuous simultaneously thanks to ingenious use of wagons and periaktoi. Buffy Manners and Diana Huckaby have costumed the show beautifully. Don Day's lighting works wonderfully in setting mood. My only complaint is Desiree's unfortunate wig.
Leading men Huck Huckaby as Frederick and Jerreme Rodriguez as Count Carl Magnus both possess marvelous singing voices and have the acting chops to bring both the humor and the pathos of Wheeler's script to the fore. I am especially impressed with Mr. Rodriguez who does double duty as part of the quintet until the character of the Count appears. Due to unexpected health issues, he stepped into the role last week. The audience would never know it. Connor Barr as Frederik's frustrated, lovelorn son makes a far more lasting impression than many I have seen play the role.
The women in the cast are equally fine. Boni Hester as fading stage actress Desiree hits all the right notes from world weary to funny and gently heartbreaking while still being completely endearing. As Desiree's mother, the former courtesan who has become slightly imperious in her dotage, Mary Agen Cox has one song, "Liaisons," but she unearths all of the riches in it to give us a languid and sensual interpretation. Molly Karrasch as Petra, the show's voice for lust now and settling later, performs "The Miller's Son," with a robust and joyous delivery. Sarah Becker captures the wonder of youth and impetuousness as Anne. Lara Wright, as Charlotte, has a real gift for arch delivery, making the most of the jaded yet humorous point of view of the character.
The quintet (Jerreme Rodriguez, Sarah Fleming Walker, Devin Medley, Richard Roberts and Natalie Cummings) are also wonderful actors, finding the arch humor in Sondheim's witty lyrics. They may be the best all around quintet I have seen spanning multiple productions, bringing out all the richness of character that has been placed there along side of the vocals.
While the challenges of marriage, aging and fidelity lie at the heart of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC and the farcical elements end up rearranging the relationships into a semblance of a happy ending, it's not all smiles on this one summer night. Blissfully, the charms of Austin Playhouse's A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC allows the genius, depth, complexity and wit of Sondheim and Wheeler to shine brightly.
Running time: Approximately Two Hours and Forty Five minutes, including intermission.
A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, produced by Austin Playhouse (6001 Airport Blvd, Austin, TX 78752.) May. 27 - Jun. 26, 2016.
Show times are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. Please be aware that only the South entrance to Highland is available to patrons. Please plan accordingly. Call (512) 476-0084 should you have any questions or for tickets.
TICKETS: $36 Thursday/Friday, $38 Saturday/Sunday