Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

A Little Night Music
Cygnet Theatre
Review by David Dixon | Season Schedule

Karole Foreman and Sean Murray
Photo by Daren Scott
Stephen Sondheim is generally praised by critics and audiences alike because of his unforgettable melodies and clever lyrics. His tunes are so memorable and influential that many theatregoers can take the often-brilliant books that inspire his shows for granted. A Little Night Music is a strong example where Sondheim's music and Hugh Wheeler's dialogue are skillfully balanced to tell a story about desire and romance. Based on Ingmar Bergman's comedy, Smiles of a Summer Night, the musical presents the lives of generally sexually-frustrated people in Sweden at the turn of the 20th century. Cygnet Theatre's production in Old Town is equally engaging, whether it is through the dialogue of the Bergman-inspired upper-class Europeans, or the manner in which they express their inner emotions through song.

The different connections that exist in the script are complicated, to say the least. Frederik Egerman (Artistic Director Sean Murray), a widowed lawyer, is unhappily married to his 18-year-old virgin wife Anne (Katie Sapper). While both seem to care a lot about each other, Anne isn't ready to be intimate with her husband. Frederik decides to take Anne to see a play starring his former lover, Desiree Armfeldt (Karole Foreman). After Frederik and Desiree reconnect, they find themselves still attracted to each other. What follows is a mostly comical series of events that involve Frederick's gloomy son Henrik (Nick Eiter), Desiree's knowledgeable daughter Fredrika (Ava Harris and Faith Nibbe, who alternate during certain performances), her bright and regretful mother Madame Armfeldt (Anise Ritchie), the dangerously jealous Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (David S. Humphrey), and his unhappy wife Charlotte (Sandy Campbell).

Murray knows A Little Night Music very well, mainly because he directed and starred in a version with pre-recorded music at the same San Diego venue ten years ago. His latest stab at the material uses several new cast/crew members and a live orchestra conduced by musical director/pianist Terry O'Donnell. The musicians, including violinist Sean Laperruque, cellist Sharon Taylor, and bassist Grant Clarkson, play the 3/4-time compositions such as "The Glamorous Life" and "Perpetual Anticipation" in a style that allows audiences to further appreciate Sondheim's gift for meticulous harmonies. If Chad Lee Thymes' miking felt like it was still being fine-tuned on opening night, the music from the orchestra and the vocals of artists such as Eiter, Ritchie, Humphrey, Campbell, Sapper and Megan Carmitchel as the lustful maid Petra were universally in sync and polished. Foreman and Murray express remorse and dissatisfaction during a couple of moving and humorous solos and duets, such as "Now," "You Must Meet My Wife," and "Send in the Clowns."

Murray as a storyteller is just as comfortable directing an ensemble number as he is orchestrating a comically tense dialogue-heavy dinner party. He gradually builds up the conflicts that occur throughout the nearly three-hour evening, making the big moments in act two more powerful. Many of the crewmembers participate in enhancing the impact of the story. David Brannen's choreography, for example, showcases the relationships between various couples, while Chris Rynne's lighting is used to symbolize the romantic tension between Desiree and Frederick. There's an ironic aspect about Jeanne Reith's costumes, as the well-dressed adults are often involved in situations that aren't very elegant or civilized. Sean Fanning's set is more intimate than one might expect for this particular show, yet certain details, such as a model mansion and birch trees, contribute greatly to the overall atmosphere.

Sondheim and Wheeler take a group of Swedes who might appear unsympathetic on paper, and make their conflicts feel identifiable. Whether Madame Armfeldt is discussing a personal memory involving a wooden ring, or Desiree and Frederik talk to each other about their lives, many moments draw the audience closer to the major characters. Sondheim and Wheeler treat the lovesick individuals with plenty of empathy. Even the buffoonish Carl-Magnus is given respect and care.

Featuring some of Sondheim's most unforgettable tunes and Wheeler's smart dialogue, Murray's revisiting of A Little Night Music offers a touching experience. Cygnet's latest version of the 1970s show is about as satisfying as a theatre fan could hope for.

Cygnet Theatre presents A Little Night Music through April 22, 2018, at 4040 Twiggs St, San Diego CA. Performs Sundays through Saturdays. Tickets start at $43.00 and can be purchased online at or by phone at 619-337-1525.