A Little Night Music
Sondheim fans rejoice! Through the end of July, the Los Angeles Opera gives us what we so rarely see in Los Angeles - a fully staged, large house, big name revival of a Sondheim show.
Don't get confused by the use of the "o-word." Although this is a production from the New York Opera, presented by the Los Angeles Opera (at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion) it is not, in fact, opera. It is not A Little Night Music opera-fied. The only place it even uses opera singers is in its "Quintet," the five singers who drift through the action as a sort of Greek chorus, commenting on the piece and vocalizing the unspoken thoughts of the lead players. Otherwise, this is strictly musical theatre.
Victor Garber plays Fredrik, the aging lawyer who has taken a much younger woman for his second wife. Fredrik has the first solo song of the evening, "Now" - a lament about sexual frustration - and Garber is off and running through Sondheim's sometimes tongue-twisting lyrics. Indeed, one of the most remarkable things about this production is how well the entire company - with the occasional exception of members of the Quintet - articulates. When the company sings the act one curtain, "A Weekend in the Country," every word from each lead performer is clearly understood.
Garber's performance is not just notable for his vocal clarity in song. He is also particularly good with his book scenes. When Fredrik meets up with Desiree, his ex-mistress, Garber conveys a wonderfully awkward combination of base sexual desire for Desiree and almost fairy tale happiness with his current wife, Anne. Judith Ivey's Desiree is a perfect counterpart for Garber's Fredrik. Ivey gives Desiree's lines a no-nonsense delivery that matches very well with Fredrik's more realistic side. Looking at the two of them, you just know that if Garber's Fredrik would dump the dream of Anne, he would actually be much happier with the reality of Desiree. And it is this feeling, established midway through act one, that enables Ivey to deliver a successful rendition of "Send in the Clowns" at the end of act two. The song is so frequently performed outside the context of the show, it is almost impossible to make it work within; however, Garber and Ivey have both set up the song so well character-wise, it is effective.
Michele Pawk, Victor Garber, and Laura Benanti
Laura Benanti is charming as the flighty, playful Anne, and her soprano is gorgeous. Sometimes it seems as though she has to rein herself in to keep from dominating group numbers with her power, but she succeeds. Benanti also is perfectly on track in the book scenes, making Anne's childish innocence believable. Danny Gurwin plays Fredrik's son, Henrik, with a similar innocence. Gurwin's Henrik is what might be termed a "sensitive soul," or, perhaps an oversensitive one, and although Gurwin gets laughs with Henrik's obvious discomfort with the world around him, he also gets the audience's sympathy.
Another strong vocal performer is Marc Kudisch, who plays Desiree's current lover, Carl-Magnus. Kudisch has a rich, deep voice which is put to good use not only with the Sondheim score, but whenever he growls at Fredrik, the man he believes is stealing his mistress. Michele Pawk is outstanding as Carl-Magnus's long-suffering wife, Charlotte. Carl-Magnus has made no attempt to hide his affairs from Charlotte, and his indifference toward her feelings is played comically. But there is no comedy at all in Pawk's rendition of "Every Day a Little Death," which begins as a cold, distant retelling of each moment of a loveless marriage, but bursts into a raw outpouring of neediness. After that musical outburst of honesty, Pawk's Charlotte bottles herself back up, and spends the rest of the show delivering cutting remarks at everyone around her - nearly all of which score audience laughs. Her performance as Charlotte suggests that someday, Pawk will make a tremendous Joanne in Company.
The wonderful Zoe Caldwell plays Madame Armfeldt, the worldly grandmother trying to impart wisdom to her granddaughter (played charmingly by Kristen Bell) while looking back on her life of love affairs. Caldwell's Madame Armfeldt gets lost in the wistful memories of her "Liaisons," and she takes us with her.
If there is a weak link in the company, it is Jessica Boevers as Petra, the housemaid in a constant state of sexual desire. Boevers doesn't really connect with Petra's song, "The Miller's Son." Her rendition is sometimes threatening and sometimes wistful, but never entirely succeeds in putting the song across.
But that is a minor blip in an otherwise excellent production. The Los Angeles Opera production of A Little Night Music is a good reminder of how well Sondheim can be done.
A Little Night Music runs at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion through July 31, 2004. For tickets and information, click www.LosAngelesOpera.com.
Los Angeles Opera - Placido Domingo, General Director; Kent Nagano, Music Director; Edgar Maitzel, Artistic Director; Elizabeth Kennedy, Administrative Director - presents A Little Night Music. Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; Book by Hugh Wheeler. Suggested by a film by Ingmar Bergman. Originally produced and directed on Broadway by Harold Prince. Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick. Conductor John DeMain; Director Scott Ellis; Choreographer Susan Stroman; Sound Designer Jon Weston; Set Designer Michael Anania; Costume Designer Lindsay W. Davis; Original Lighting Designer Kenneth Posner; Lighting Designer Jeff Nellis; Associate Director/Choreographer Scott Taylor; Associate Choreographer Tara Young; Casting Consultant Jim Carnahan, C.S.A. Production from New York City Opera. Wigs constructed by the Los Angeles Opera Wig Department.
Photo by Robert Millard