BWW Review: A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC at THEATRE THREE
Opening night at Theatre Three's A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC got off to a slow start, due to the late arrival of one of the theatre technicians. The show itself followed suit, starting off slow, but finding its stride as the evening continued, and ultimately ending in a heartwarming finale. While it may not be everyone's cup of tea, this production is strong and well worth seeing.
Prior to partnering on SWEENEY TODD, Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheim came together in 1973 to write a piece of classically-inspired musical theatre: A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. The musical is based on an Ingmar Bergman film called Smiles of a Summer Night, and takes place in Sweden right around 1900. The story of mismatched lovers plays out like a modern-day romcom, but there is a nagging sense of innocence lost and unforgiven, unforgotten wrongs.
With its title alluding to a Mozart serenade (Eine kleine Nachtmusik), it is no surprise that the music is all very classical and operatic. Although this particular Sondheim score and style may not appeal to everyone, many opera and light opera companies tend to perform this piece because of its crossover capability. Most of the show is written in 3/4 time (think of a waltz), and Sondheim's voice parts are very complex and difficult.
The cast at Theatre Three, however, does a brilliant job at managing the challenging vocals, with special kudos given to the quintet, who narrates the show. Although their moments do take you out of the world of the play - perhaps intentionally in this case, as they are dressed as modern-day observers to this tale of the past - their voices ring out like an angelic choir, each note sweet and perfect, as they weave their way through the audience. Mention must also be made of Russell McCook (Henrik) and his performance of" Later," while playing the cello: it was both beautiful and moving.
The best performances of the evening, though, go to the ladies. Wendy Welch as Madame Armfeldt kept the audience in stiches with her character's thoughtful, but entertaining insights. And, once Ashlie Kirkpatrick was introduced as the dry-witted Charlotte, these two women dueled throughout the show to earn the biggest laugh. Although Jennifer Kuenzer felt too young and too carefree to be playing the role of the world-worn Desiree, her moment in "Send in the Clowns" was focused, touching and heartfelt. Rounding out the women of NIGHT MUSIC, Ellie Hertel as Anne played her role with innocence and sincerity.
Director Marianne Galloway has set this production in a theatre, noting that this is "a place that has truly seen it all...a place that simultaneously embraces the greatest of expectations and absolutely no expectations." For the most part, this setting worked, with only a few occasionally awkward moments (like when a couple took a nap on the steps). But, her director's hand was felt throughout and the blocking and flow was some of the best ever seen for a theatre in the round: rather than appearing stilted and "intentional," it seemed completely natural.