BWW Review: Huntington Theatre Company's Glamorous A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC

A Little Night Music

Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by Hugh Wheeler, Original orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, Suggested by the film Smiles of a Summer Night by Ingmar Bergman, Originally produced & directed on Broadway by Harold Prince; Directed by Peter DuBois; Choreographer, Daniel Pelzig; Music Director, Jonathan Mastro; Scenic Design, Derek McLane; Costume Design, Robert Morgan; Lighting Design, Jeff Croiter; Sound Design, Jon Weston; Casting, Alaine Alidaffer; Production Stage Manager, Emily F. McMullen; Stage Manager, Kevin Schlagle

CAST (in order of appearance): Andrew O'Shanick, Wendi Bergamini, Amy Barker, Nick Sulfaro, Aimee Doherty, Lauren Weintraub, Bobbie Steinbach, Sam Simahk, Pablo Torres, Morgan Kirner, Stephen Bogardus, McCaela Donovan, Haydn Gwynne, Sarah Oakes Muirhead, Patrick Varner, Mike McGowan, Lauren Molina

Performances through October 11 at Huntington Theatre Company, 264 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-266-0800 or www.huntingtontheatre.org

The genius of Stephen Sondheim is on display in Huntington Theatre Company's production of A Little Night Music, a bittersweet musical comedy that tells its story through the composer's songs in greater measure than in its book by Hugh Wheeler. Artistic Director Peter DuBois fills the summer's night sky with a constellation of stars of varying intensity, but they all coalesce to produce a luminous spectacle. Music Director Jonathan Mastro has assembled a baker's dozen of musicians on strings, reeds, keyboard, and brass (conducted by Eric Stern at the press performance) who fill the house with Sondheim's sweeping score and provide a tuneful palette for Daniel Pelzig's choreography and enrich the substantial vocal stylings of the ensemble.

DuBois' artistic vision is a minimalist approach for the scenic design (Derek McLane), countered by lavish, detailed costumes (Robert Morgan) and lush orchestrations. Set pieces that suggest a bedroom, a dressing room, the theater, and the country estate of Madame Armfeldt slide on and off the stage as needed, and there is never any doubt as to where a scene takes place. Lighting designer Jeff Croiter changes mood and focus, often tracking a singer with a spotlight or placing a section of the set in shadow to ease a character into the background. The sound design (Jon Weston) is clear and effective, and the mix during the musical numbers is excellent.

Perhaps more noteworthy than his design vision is the director's choice to cast a vast array of local actors, including some students from The Boston Conservatory, with the lead roles going to veterans with Broadway credits (two of whom have worked at the Huntington previously). Haydn Gwynne (Désirée Armfeldt) and Stephen Bogardus (Fredrik Egerman) are the former lovers who find themselves attracted to one another after a 14-year estrangement, and they play their parts like stalwart pros. Mike McGowan (the self-enamored, jealous Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm) and Lauren Molina (his long-suffering wife Countess Charlotte Malcolm) are larger than life characters who tread a fine line to be comical, but not cartoonish. Each of the four shines vocally while also capturing the persona expressed in their songs. Egerman sings in praise of his virginal young wife ("You Must Meet My Wife"), only to be met with Désirée's withering sincerity cum sarcasm. Carl-Magnus ("In Praise of Women") and Charlotte ("Every Day a Little Death") convey opposite viewpoints on the state of their marriage and affairs. Gwynne makes the ever popular "Send in the Clowns" her own, imbuing it with a combination of disappointment, resignation, and dignity.

The roster of Bostonians includes four of the five (the fifth, Wendi Bergamini, is another New Yorker) members of the Quintet (Andrew O'Shanick, Amy Barker, Nick Sulfaro, Aimee Doherty), Lauren Weintraub (Fredrika Armfeldt), Bobbie Steinbach (Madame Armfeldt), Sam Simahk (Frid), Pablo Torres (Henrik Egerman), Morgan Kirner (Anne Egerman), McCaela Donovan (Petra), Sarah Oakes Muirhead (Malla, a maid), and Patrick Varner (Bertrand, a page). Most of these are making their HTC debuts and it is rewarding to see midsize-theater regulars like Doherty, Barker, Sulfaro, and Simahk getting the chance to strut their stuff (and their considerable vocal chops) with a large company.

The cream that rises to the top of this crop is Donovan's sassy, sensual, romantic maid, and she delivers her credo unapologetically and with brio in "The Miller's Son." Steinbach has portrayed Mme. A. in the past and inhabits the wry grande dame grandly, especially in her defining song "Liaisons." Teenager Weintraub has experience that belies her youth, and she does a great job of acting younger than her age as Desiree's wise-beyond-her-years, 13-year old daughter. Torres and Kirner, both pursuing degrees from BOCO, have great chemistry with each other, sing magnificently, and cede no ground to their professional counterparts.

For Sondheim fans, DuBois and company do justice to this great piece of musical theatre by the great composer. For those who may not be familiar with him (is that possible?), this would be a wonderful introduction to one of his masterworks. It feels like old home week at the BU Theatre on Huntington Avenue and everyone is at the top of their game. If I may borrow from a few of Sondheim's song titles, unless you are planning on "A Weekend in the Country," get tickets for A Little Night Music "Now," "Soon," or "Later," but there is no song titled "Never!"

Photo credit: T. Charles Erickson (The cast of A Little Night Music)



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From This Author Nancy Grossman