BWW Reviews: Stunning Creative Choices and Broadway Cast Lead ACT's A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC

Taking his inspiration from the summer solstice and a turn of the twentieth century Sweden setting, director Mark Lamos gives Sondheim's A Little Night Music an "erotic" staging at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre now through June 21.

Masked in lingerie, a lingering chorus opens the production with the composer's haunting melodies. The younger cast - set in provocative poses against a dramatic curtain and chandeliers - present a dark, beautiful and bittersweet picture of the memories and decisions about to come into play. But the remainder of Lamos' overtly sensual direction distracts. Sondheim knows how to weave very real characters with interesting themes and ideas. No exception, his Night Music is not all gritty sex and desire. It does not fit most musical romance fare, either, but remains entirely romantic in form and fashion.

Hugh Wheeler laces the show's book with clever humor often accompanied by poignant insights. A rich lawyer meets an old flame as an escape from his 18 year old bride, still a virgin. His pretentious rival's wife deals with marriage difficulties. His neglected son, an unknowing voice of reason, struggles with love, moral and disgust with the follies of life. And his maid strives to live life to the fullest ... through sex. The moon smiles at these "fools" as they meet for "A Weekend in the Country" and attempt to set things right, all the while dealing with their age, pride, desire and more. The script and lyrics indicate that one can either laugh at the past or struggle vainly, but must ultimately accept how decisions shape a person and move on.

An impressive cast leads ACT's production, with Marissa McGowan earning her own ovation for Petra's second-act "Miller's Son." The narrating chorus - Brandon Dahlquist, Christine Capsuto, Annemaria Rajala, Andres Ramierz and Caitlan Taylor - display incredible operatic talent. Laurie Veldheer has a loveable, sweet naivety as the teasing young bride, Anne. Justin Scott Brown as the son of lawyer Fredrik Egerman is the one male in the cast to make a lasting impression. And Brigid O'Brien adds some common sense as the daughter of Fredrik's old flame. Hollywood and Broadway actors comprise the remaining cast. Patrick Cassidy as Fredrik and Paolo Montalban (of ABC's Cinderella) as his rival, Carl-Magnus, fit their roles well-enough, but lack spirit. Emily Skinner's unique voice and sophisticated flair perfectly match the sarcasm of the wife of Carl-Magnus. Karen Ziemba (of Broadway's Curtains) portrays Fredrik's lover, Desiree, a witty actress in public, but ready for some peace off stage. And Dana Ivey as Desiree's mother serves as yet another form of commentary within the show.

But it's the creative team that steals the show with its overwhelming design, balletic movements and smart spacing. A Little Night Music features breathtaking scenic design from Riccardo Hernandez and stunning costumes designed by Candice Donnelly. Donnelly's clown-like ensemble attires are a brilliant, subtle reference to the famous "Send in the Clowns" ballad, as are the eclectic, theatrical scenic pieces. Audiences leave with plenty of material worthy of hours of discussion.


American Conservatory Theatre
Through June 21

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From This Author Harmony Wheeler