Review: A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, Theatre du Chatelet, Paris, February 20, 2010

It is not often that a production of a vintage piece of musical theatre overshadows the original production but that is precisely what happened during a magical new staging of the Stephen Sondheim/Hugh Wheeler musical A Little Night Music at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris last week. The musical was originally directed on Broadway in 1973 by the legendary Hal Prince and has been frequently staged at venues all over the world since then (most recently at the Menier Chocolate Factory, the Garrick Theatre and now on Broadway, directed by Trevor Nunn). But this incarnation, directed by Lee Blakely, is the most beautiful and stunning version of the show I have ever seen.

The plot of the show (set in Sweden at the turn of the 20th century) concerns lawyer Fredeik Egerman, who - frustrated in his marriage to a 17-year-old bride, still a virgin after 11 months of marriage - seeks out his old flame, actress Desiree Armfeldt, who is in the throes of a complicated relationship with a womanising Dragoon, Count Carl-Magnus, who is himself married to the long-suffering Charlotte. Other characters, including Fredrik's son, Desiree's daughter and Anne's maid, Petra, are woven into the fabric of this clever tapestry of lovers and fools. And the proceedings are insightfully observed by Desiree's mother, Madame Armfeldt, who explains that the night will smile three times - for the young, for the fools and for the old.

Full of some of Sondheim's wittiest and most poignant lyrics, which sit on top of the Grand Master of musical theatre's most ravishing score, A Little Night Music has always been one of his most crowd-pleasing and successful musicals. But this Parisian outing allowed the piece to shine brighter than ever. Lee Blakely masterfully orchestrated his actors and scenery to create a perfectly seamless progression of dramatic action, which - aided by Andrew George's choreography, Jo van Schuppen's beautiful costumes and Jenny Cane's stunning lighting - exploded into a magnificent spectacle that delighted both the eyes and ears of the audience.

And the cast were simply magnificent, singing quite beautifully throughout. In particular, Deanne Meek delivered Countess Charlotte's barbed one-liners with great comic timing, Greta Scacchi glistened with class as Desiree and performed the show's iconic song (Send In The Clowns) with the perfect balance of subtlety and pathos - while Leslie Caron's Madame Armfeldt owned the stage for every second she was on it. But, even in this great company, Francesca Jackson - whose performance as Petra was a sheer delight throughout - came close to stealing the show with her sensational rendition of the penultimate musical number, The Miller's Son.

A Little Night Music is based on the Ingmar Bergman classic film, Smiles Of A Summer Night. The smiles were particularly broad in Paris last week.

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