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Boston Review: Lyric Stage's "A Little Night Music" Sweeps Audience Off Its Feet

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Presented by The Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Book by Hugh Wheeler

Directed by Spiro Veloudos

Musical Direction by Jonathan Goldberg

Choreography by Ilyse Robbins

Scenic Design by Cristina Todesco

Costume Design by David C. Cabral

Lighting Design by Karen Perlow

Cast (in order of appearance):

Greek chorus: Frank Aronson, Kaja K. Schuppert, Vanessa Schukis, Stephen Marc Beaudoin, and Kristen Sergeant

Fredrika Armfeldt, Andrea C. Ross

Madame Armfeldt, Bobbie Steinbach

Henrik Egerman, Billy Piscopo

Anne Egerman, Lianne Grasso

Fredrik Egerman, Christopher Chew

Petra, Elizabeth Hayes

Desiree Armfeldt, Maryann Zschau

Count Carl-Magnus, Drew Poling

Countess Charlotte Malcolm, Leigh Barrett

 

Performances: Now through October 16

Box Office: 617-437-7172 or www.lyricstage.com

 

The Lyric Stage Company of Boston has assembled a cast of some of the finest Stephen Sondheim interpreters in the region to present an utterly charming production of "A Little Night Music," arguably the most romantic and accessible musical that the celebrated composer/lyricist has ever written. Beautiful voices and whimsical acting turns combine to sweep the audience up in the arms of both Sondheim's amusing, clever and heartfelt score and Hugh Wheeler's sharp, elegant and witty dialog.

 

Set in Sweden at the turn of the 20th century and inspired by the 1957 Ingmar Bergman film Smiles of a Summer Night, "A Little Night Music" mischievously exposes the foolishness of three unfaithful but likable couples who are too busy looking for lust in all the wrong places to appreciate true love when they finally find it. During a madcap weekend in the country that brings all three couples together under one never-ending Scandinavian summer night, the men, women, and heavens above conspire to set the amorous adventures right once and for all.

 

Bobbie Steinbach, who plays the reluctant hostess Madame Armfeldt, is wonderfully droll as the sage but slightly cynical matriarch who in her youth eschewed innocent romance for profitable liaisons that left her respected and wealthy but without companionship in her later life. Now a self-described elder who "knows too much," she shares her wisdom with her granddaughter Fredrika (played with winsome intelligence by 12-year-old Andrea C. Ross) while waiting for the night to smile upon the young, the fools, and finally herself.

 

The young are the delightfully morose Billy Piscopo as Henrik Egerman, the divinity student driven to distraction by his love for his even younger stepmother, and Lianne Grasso as Anne Egerman, the giddy and nervous – and still virginal – bride of Henrik's father, Fredrik. While Grasso actually looks quite a bit older than Piscopo, her touch of empty-headed brattiness compensates for the age disparity that could otherwise have made her much less believable in the part.

 

The fools are represented ably and amiably by the middle-aged contingent – the flamboyant actress Desiree Armfeldt, her two married lovers Fredrik Egerman and Count Carl-Magnus, and the ever-constant wife Countess Charlotte Malcolm – all of whom have managed to learn little about love, despite their frequent dallying. In their respective roles as these perpetual adolescents, Boston area veterans Maryann Zschau, Christopher Chew, and Drew Poling all skillfully reveal their childish egos and comic foibles as they engage in verbal sparring matches and vainly try to hide their true feelings from each other, and themselves. It is Leigh Barrett as the much put upon but wry Countess, however, who delivers the most richly textured performance of this quartet. Her impeccable timing and understated sarcasm incite waves of laughter during her lighter moments, but with a self-effacing awareness of the indignities she regularly suffers at the hands of her husband's infidelities and bravado, she also touches the audience with a profound sadness. Not to indulge in self-pity for long, though, she quickly flicks away the pathos with another rapid-fire round of comically barbed truths.

 

Elizabeth Hayes turns in the other notable performance as Petra, the sensuous serving girl who chooses not to defer her passions for life while waiting for the ultimate love to come along. As her anthem for living fully in the moment, Hayes's "Miller's Son" is sung with a playful exuberance that mixes idealistic dreaming with a lustful pragmatism. She knows that, given her station in life, she can't afford not to celebrate what passes by.

 

The intimate moments and layered exchanges between lovers and others in "A Little Night Music" are well served by this Lyric Stage production. Songs such as Desiree's ironic "Send in the Clowns" and the ensemble's lighthearted "A Weekend in the Country" are highlights. However, the more expansive dimensions that normally come to life through elegant sets and swirling waltzes are sacrificed because of the small, floor-level thrust stage on which the actors are required to perform. At times movement seems a bit stilted, particularly when scenes rapidly change to roll groups of players in shifting focus on and off stage. In larger venues, lighting cues typically serve to isolate action when humorously contrasting scenes are in tableau.

 

Thankfully, the wonderfully harmonic and puckish Greek chorus that vocally and physically weaves itself in and out of the proceedings doesn't seem at all hampered by the set limitations. This quintet's fluid, interpretive movements and good-naturedly winking verses expose the unspoken intentions of the hopelessly foolish lovers while making Sondheim's exquisite music soar.

 

This is a frothy, touching, and marvelously sung production of one of the musical theater's great classics. For those who complain that Stephen Sondheim never writes happy endings, "A Little Night Music" is the show to see.

 


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