Also see John's review of Jersey Boys
A Little Night Music features music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Hugh Wheeler. Inspired by the Ingmar Bergman film Smiles of a Summer Night, the musical is set in Sweden at the turn of the century. It involves the romantic lives of several couples, with almost all of the music set in waltz time. The show opens with the five Liebeslieder Singers who act as a musical Greek Chorus throughout the show. The cast of characters enter. There is successful, middle-aged lawyer Fredrik Egerman. His immature, 18-year-old wife Anne still remains a virgin after eleven months of marriage ("Soon"). His self-conscious, 19-year-old son Henrik is a solemn seminary student bent on avoiding the temptations of the flesh. Anne's carefree maidservant, Petra, has set her eyes on enjoying each and every one of those same temptations while she is still young ("The Miller's Son").
Enter Desiree Armfeldt. She is a beautiful, self-absorbed actress of considerable fame. She and Fredrik were lovers many years ago ("Remember"). Desiree is currently involved with the swaggering, and married, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm. His long-suffering wife, the Countess Charlotte Malcolm, is aware of her husband's infidelities but remains in love with him in spite of herself ("Every Day A Little Death"). Desiree has sent her young daughter Fredrika, born out of wedlock, to live with her wealthy mother, Madame Armfeldt. The aged, wheelchair-bound Madame Armfeldt is tended to by her manservant Frid and a large staff who maintain her estate. She tells her granddaughter Fredrika that the summer night "smiles" three times: first on the young, second on fools and third on the old. As all the couples come to the estate for a weekend in the country ("A Weekend in the Country"), Fredrika vows to try and watch the summer night to see the three smiles occur. In time the night smiles down at the follies of the hearts of all those below, setting into place all as it is meant to be.
The set and costume design for this production is lovely. An effective use of lighting casts shadowed patterns of leaves spilling across the stage, and provides the anticipated smiling of the moon in the final moment of the show. The production features tracked accompaniment rather than live musicians. As the orchestrations make heavy use of stringed instruments, the tracks are able to fill out the needed sound without hampering the quality of the show. The members of the Liebeslieder seem to have no difficulty with the demanding vocal ranges and complexly written harmonies. Though they are not given any defined roles, they actually do the hardest singing in the show, and thankfully possess more trained voices than usually heard in south Florida theatre.
Miki Edelman is instantly heartwarming as Madame Armfeldt. This is a role for which she is well suited. Her delivery of "Liasons" is the icing on the cake of her performance. Kimberley Xavier Martins is beautiful and vivacious as Desiree. She demonstrates wonderful comedic timing in "You Must Meet My Wife" and maturity in "Send In The Clowns," which was written for Glynis Johns to accommodate her limited vocal skills. Though Martins clearly could have really sung the song, she and director Michael Leeds showed sensitivity in concentrating on the acting of the song instead.
Joseph Byrne is perfect as the shy and clumsy Henrik. His voice matches the song "Later" exactly as it should. It is a voice with technical skill and emotion, but without a warm, romantic sound. Rochelle Smith is good as the vapid Anne. She gives away a bit too much in an early scene in which she is overly coy with Henrik, but gets better as the show progresses.
Blair Alexis Brown is solid as the dry-witted Countess Charlotte. She has the right feel for the role, though something about her wig placement and costuming make her appear to have a dowager's hump in some scenes. It takes away from the staid elegance of the role. As Count Carl-Magnus, Shane R. Tanner is imposing. For this role he needs to use more of his legato, rippling baritone sound rather than his dramatic to solidify the smooth but smarmy nature of his character. Lauren Gire as Petra sings "The Miller's Son" nicely, but is missing the abandoned, earthy quality essential to this role. Mark A. Harmon is entertaining as Fredrik Egerman, who seems but a pawn of fate. A young Julie Jaquays shows promise as Fredrika. A handsome Aaron Velthouse gets short-changed on dialogue in the role of Frid, but adds a needed presence to "The Miller's Son."
A Little Night Music is infrequently done because of its difficult singing and a theme that speaks to more mature audiences. The beautifully performed production at the Stage Door Theatre is a rare chance to see the show that should not be missed.
A Little Night Music opened on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre on February 25, 1973. It moved to the Majestic Theatre on September 17, 1973, where it closed on August 3, 1974, after a total of 601 performances. The production received six Tony Awards and six Drama Desk Awards. A film version of A Little Night Music was released in 1978, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Lesley-Anne Down, Diana Rigg, Len Cariou, Hermione Gingold and Laurence Guittard. The setting for the film was moved from Sweden to Austria. Stephen Sondheim wrote lyrics for the "Night Waltz" theme ("Love Takes Time") for the film; and wrote an entirely new version of the song "The Glamorous Life," which has been incorporated into several subsequent productions of the stage musical.
Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim was born on March 22, 1930. He has been described as "the greatest and perhaps best-known artist in the American musical theatre." In addition to A Little Night Music, his work includes the musicals A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Company, Do I Hear a Waltz?, Follies, Pacific Overtures, Anyone Can Whistle, Merrily We Roll Along, Sweeney Todd, Sunday In The Park With George, Into The Woods, Passion and Assassins. He also wrote the lyrics for West Side Story and Gypsy. He is the recipient of seven Tony Awards (more than any other composer), two Grammy Awards, the 1990 Academy Award for Best Song for "Sooner or Later" from Dick Tracy, the 1985 Pulitzer Prize in Drama for Sunday In The Park With George, the Kennedy Center Honors for Lifetime Achievement in 1993 and a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre in 2008.
a Little Night Music will appear at the Stage Door Theatre through May 24, 2009. The theater is located at 8036 W. Sample Rd in Coral Springs, Florida. The Stage Door Theatre is a not-for-profit professional theatre company hiring local and non-local nonunion actors and actresses. Their two stages in Coral Springs are open year round. For tickets and information on their season, you may contact them by phone at 954-344-7765 or online at www.stagedoortheatre.com.
*Designates a member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, Inc., an independent national labor union.