Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham

A Little Night Music
Burning Coal Theatre Company
Review by Garrett Southerland

The great composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim died just two and a half years ago, and his legacy continues to thrive. His last musical, Here We Are, completed a limited run earlier this year, and revivals of his work remain strong. Burning Coal Theatre Company endeavors to show their honor in their current production of A Little Night Music, a revered classic with a score by Mr. Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler, playing through April 21.

A Little Night Music is based on the Ingmar Bergman film Smiles of a Summer Night, which follows the romantic entanglements of several couples during a given season. Set in Sweden around the turn of the 20th century, we learn early on that "the summer night smiles three times: first on the young, second on fools, and third on the old." Each will have their "smile" before the end is out.

Three main households make up the lovers. The first is that of the Egermans, headed by Fredrik (a distinguished Derek Robinson, who brings instant reminders of Len Cariou who originated the role), a middle-aged man who has just recently wed 18-year-old Anne (a whimsical Alli Mae Carnes), who has yet to give herself to him after almost a year of marriage. They are joined by Fredrik's son from a previous marriage, Henrik (a remarkable Ian Finley), who is just a year older than Anne. Next are the Armfeldts, primarily headed over by Madame Armfeldt (performed with enjoyable ease by Christine Hunter), the elder matriarch who pines for her early years of "liaisons." Her daughter Desiree (portrayed with great authenticity by Kelley Keats) enjoys the traveling life of a stage actress, and Desiree's daughter Fredrika (the adorable Kai Halford) is sent to stay with her grandmother while the actress travels. Lastly, we have The Count and Countess Carl-Magnus and Charlotte Malcolm (played with impressive comedic timing by Byron Jennings and Sarah Winter), a cold and self-centered couple who have grown out of love with each other but stay for the benefit they receive. The plot revolves around Desiree, who is currently having an affair with the Count but rekindles a love for her former flame, Fredrik. Eventually, the three families converge during "A Weekend in the Country" for the summer to smile on them all.

Originally produced on Broadway in 1973, the musical won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Book, and Score. The score is inspired by the ¾ time of waltzes, which Sondheim uses throughout the play. It is one of his most lavish and lush scores, the music beautiful and the lyrics enchanting (more reminiscent of his mentor Oscar Hammerstein II than some of Sondheim's works before or after). The stand-out "Send in the Clowns" was later a pop hit for Judy Collins in the 1970s.

Jerome Davis directs and also serves as the artistic director of Burning Coal. His eye for quality continues to be seen in the people he chooses to work with. From Stacey Herrison's costume design to lighting provided by Matthew Adelson, it is clear each knows how to embrace the "less is more" concept that works so well in the small black box stage that is the Murphey School Auditorium. Of special note is Xiang Li's scenery design, with hand-painted cubes of metal and glass that maneuvered around the small stage to account for scenes. Hanging above, ornate chandeliers and glass gloves filled with pastel flowers of purples and pinks harken to the lavish life of the country genteel. Perhaps the most impressive is the small quartet that makes up the orchestra under the music direction of Christian Stahr–though small, the scope of beauty that emanates is just as grand as it would be with a larger one.

This production will be a treat for any fan of the works of Stephen Sondheim. If one is not familiar, it is an impressive introduction that can make one a fan. The beauty and humor are things all can embrace, whether it is the young, the foolish, or the young at heart. May this production smile upon us all as we usher in a new summer season.

A Little Night Music, a production of Burning Coal Theatre Company, runs through April 21, 2024, at Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh NC. For tickets and information, please visit or call 919-834-4001.

Book: Hugh Wheeler
Based on the book Smiles of a Summer Night by: Ingmar Bergman
Music and Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Jerome Davis
Music Director: Christian Stahr
Choreography: Genevieve ‘Gigi' Juras
Scenic Design: Xiang Li
Costume Design: Stacey Herrison
Lighting Design: Matthew E. Adelson
Sound Design: Juan Isler

Desiree Armfeldt: Kelley Keats
Fredrik Egerman: Derek Robinson
Anne Egerman: Alli Mae Carnes
Henrik Egerman: Ian Finley
Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm: Byron Jennings
Countess Charlotte Malcolm: Sarah Winter
Madame Armfeldt: Christine Hunter
Petra: Margaret-Ellen Christensen
Fredrika Armfeldt: Kai Petra Halford
Osa/Malla: Nunna Noe
Frid: Will Godby
Bertrand: Devin Lackey
Mrs. Anderssen: Natalie Blackman
Mrs. Nordstrom: Melanie Simmons
Mrs. Segstrom: Natalie Turgeon
Mr. Erlanson: Juan Isler
Mr. Lindquist: Alec Donaldson