BWW Review: Signature's A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC Is Not Only Rich, It Is Divine

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BWW Review: Signature's A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC Is Not Only Rich, It Is Divine

Isn't it rich?

No. To call Signature Theatre's production of A Little Night Music rich would be akin to calling an Aston Martin just a car or a Rolex just a watch. Using one word to praise this production is simply a disservice. Signature's A Little Night Music is a divine production brimming with exquisite performances and hilarity. Director Eric Schaeffer has found the intimacy, charm and humor that was sorely lacking in the 2009 Broadway revival, restoring Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's musical to its full glory.

With this production we are once again reminded why Sondheim productions are Signature's hallmark and the great care they take in staging his works. Everyone must see A Little Night Music because it's a perfect example of masterpiece masterfully staged.

Based off of Ingmar Bergman's 1955 film, Smiles on a Summer Night, A Little Night Music explores how foolishly people act when in love. The story is told by following three ill-suited, dare I say eccentric, couples.

There is the middle aged lawyer Fredrik Egerman and his virginal, 18-year old wife Anne, played by a stately Bobby Smith and a wide-eyed Nicole Elledge. A scene stealing Tracy Lynn Olivera and Will Gartshore portray the emotionally deflated Countess Charlotte Malcolm and her husband, the testosterone-infused solider Count Carl Magnus Malcom. Finally, making her musical theatre debut in a performance that can only be described as pure bliss is Holly Twyford as the aging actress Desiree Armfeldt, who also happens to be Carl-Magnus' mistress and Fredrik's former flame.

The follies of the couples are set against a summer's night in Sweden at the turn of the last century. As the show begins, the evening's hostess Madame Leonora Armfeldt, a rapturous Florence Lacey, tells her granddaughter that the summer night smiles three times. "The first smile smiles at the young, who know nothing. The second, at the fools who know too little. And the third at the old who know too much."

What sets A Little Night Music apart from other musicals is the elegant eloquence of Stephen Sondheim's lyrics and the sophistication of Hugh Wheeler's book. And while the humor is on full display with the duet "You Must Meet My Wife" and the Act I Finale "A Weekend in Country", the dynamic of Desiree and Fredrik's relationship provides the show with a gravitas that prevents it from becoming just another romantic comedy like so many other musicals.

Yes, "Send in the Clowns" is A Little Night Music's best known number. But the scene which encompasses the song is more than just a setup for Sondheim's greatest ballad (in my opinion). The intimacy of Schaeffer's direction, Smith's soul-searching delivery of Fredrik's confession to Desiree, and the emotional vulnerability of Twyford's performance all combine to make one of musical theatre's all-time greatest scenes. So as to not spoil the show, I won't give away the dialogue, but it is an intelligent, articulate, emotional tour-de-force.

Commenting on the action is a small Greek-Chorus called the Liebeslieders, that's "love singers" for those not up on their German. Portrayed by Kevin McAllister, Quynh-My Luu, Maria Egler, Benjamin Lurye and Susan Derry, their suggestive delivery of Sondheim's lyrics conjures up the flirtatious behavior of the characters.

Sondheim's haunting, yet playful score is mostly composed in the style of a waltz and is a perfect fit for the upper class nature of the musical's characters and its 1900s Swedish country setting. Conductor/Musical Director Jon Kalbfleisch and his 13 piece orchestra, which is a mixture of woodwinds and strings, infuse the musical's summer night's setting so much so that if twinkling stars had sounds, they would sound like this orchestra.

The one contrast to this is a deep and foreboding cello, played onstage by Sam Ludwig, in the character of Fredrik's sexually-repressed son Henrik. A minister in training, he despises the carnal passion of A Little Night Music's various romantic interludes with the full, hypocritical, scorn of the pulpit. A trait emboldened by Costume Designer Robert Perdziola's decision to dress him in a plain black and white suit. The rest of the cast is stylishly adorned in a series of crèmes and grey Victorian-era costumes.

Paul Tate DePoo III's set design conveys the musical's rural Swedish setting. In a land where the 'sun sets low...and The Shadows grow' DePoo has a backdrop of clear violet movable panels infused with streaks of dark gold, allowing the characters to scurry between their various affairs. Taking inspiration from Sondheim's score, Karma Camp's choreography is a slow, flirtatious waltz like style.

The most astounding aspect of Signature's production is that it is more than just a romantic comedy. A Little Night Music is an expertly crafted, sophisticated musical, whose truths are timeless. That alone makes it remarkable, and yes, a masterpiece.

Isn't it rich?

Rich, sophisticated, naughty, hilarious, monumental... choose your adjective! I simply call it a must-see.

Runtime is two and half hours, with one intermission.

A Little Night Music runs thru October 8th at Signature Theatre - 4200 Campbell Ave, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets please call (703) 820-9771 or click here.

Photo: Holly Twyford. Credit: Christopher Mueller.

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From This Author Benjamin Tomchik