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Boston by Suzanne Bixby

A Little Night Music

It's All True
Drew Poling & Christopher Chew
A Little Night Music at the Lyric Stage is the first of this season's offerings in the veritable "Sondheim Festival" enlivening Boston the past few years. Our stellar mid-sized theatres have run the gamut from Saturday Night to Passion without skipping much in between. Boston is blessed with directors, musicians, designers and performers who are more than up to the challenge.

Director Spiro Veloudos and music director Jonathan Goldberg took on Night Music with mixed results at Boston's outdoor Publick Theatre a few years ago. Happily, all of the necessary elements fell into place this time around.

The Armfeldt women at the center of the story charmingly represent the three smiles of a summer night referred to in Hugh Wheeler's text. Granddaughter Fredrika (the irrepressible Andrea C. Ross) inadvertently saves the "young who know nothing" from their own folly. Her actress mother Desiree (richly played by Maryann Zschau) is the catalyst for the large contingent of "fools who know too little." And the family matriarch (the always delightful Bobbie Steinbach) dispenses the acerbic wisdom of "the old who know too much."

Sondheim doesn't let the rest of the youngest generation off easily. Some of the most daunting numbers in the score (or the Sondheim repertoire, for that matter) include "Soon" for the virgin bride Anne (Liane Grasso), "Later" for her smitten cello-playing stepson Henrik (Billy Piscopo) and "The Miller's Son" for the earthy maid Petra (Elizabeth Hayes). Not only do these three sing with grace and ease, but they also know enough to build and layer their performances with the story embedded within.

Another special delight of this production is the pairing of the principals. Zschau and Christopher Chew (Frederick) were also a winning combination in the Lyric's 2001 Sunday in the Park with George. And Leigh Barrett (Charlotte) sparred with Drew Poling (Carl-Magnus) in Marry Me a Little this summer at Gloucester Stage and last fall in Follies in Concert (Poling was Len Cariou's standby). You couldn't ask for four better singers in these roles. And Barrett and Poling, in particular, bring interesting nuances to their less fully drawn characters.

Mention must also be made of the liebeslieder group (Frank Aronson, Kaja K. Schuppert, Stephen Marc Beaudoin and Kristen Sergeant) who function as a sort of Nordic Greek chorus. They underscore the reunion of Desiree and Frederick ("Remember") and manipulate the goings on when the mismatched lovers all converge at the Armfeldt country home ("The Sun Won't Set" and "Perpetual Anticipation.") Veloudos and choreographer Ilyse Robbins move the group fluidly and allow them to become much more than a musical appendage.

Designers Christina Todesco (scenery), David C. Cabral (costumes) and Karen Perlow (lights) also rise to the challenge. A series of overlapping screens provide a lovely changeable backdrop for the three-quarter thrust stage and allow the movement of set pieces to be choreographed as precisely as the musical numbers. Ever-changing patterns of light chart the emotional ups and downs of the lovers and the riot of color in the gowns bespeaks of the passion lying beneath the surface.

Even those whose taste doesn't usually run to Sondheim should give A Little Night Music a try. It's his most romantic score - the one that gave us "Send in the Clowns" - and the well-plotted story is unraveled in a relatively straightforward manner. The source material was Ingmar Bergman's film Smiles of a Summer Night and the resulting confection is Bergman-lite with a touch of Jean Anouilh or Ferenc Molnar enchantment.

A Little Night Music now through October 16th at the Lyric Stage Company, 140 Clarendon St. (Copley Square), Boston, Mass (in the YWCA Building.) Performances are: Wednesday & Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 4pm and 8pm, Sunday at 3pm and Wednesday at 2pm (Sept 15th and Oct 6th ONLY.) Ticket prices are $23 - 45 depending on performance time and seat location with a $10 Student rush tickets available 1/2 hour prior to each performance. Tickets are available at the Lyric Stage box office (617) 437-7172 or online at www.lyricstage.com.


Photo: Lyric Stage


Be sure to check the current schedule for theatre in the Boston area.



- Suzanne Bixby



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