Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Also see Bill's review of The Secret Garden
This production is a very good one, missing only the finesse ideal for this Scandinavian comedy of mismatched lovers. Kerby has cast for vocal strength, with a whole stage full of Manatee Players regulars. Heading the Egerman clan is Rodd Dyer as Frederik. He is extraordinary in his opening "Now," the cascading words clearly articulated. Miranda Wolf is his virginal bride Anne, all girlish giggles, and handles the vocal side with aplomb. Max Bolton is his son Henrik. Mr. Bolton doesn't truly command the top of the range ideal for this part. He gets the top notes out, but he is not the tenor Sondheim envisioned. He compensates with strong acting.
Michelle Anaya plays their maid Petra and knocks "The Miller's Son" out of the park. Over at the Armfeldts', we have Nancy Denton as Desiree, with a not particularly flattering wig that offers a clue that "the one and only Desiree Armfeldt" may never have been the star all her admirers see her as. She captures the emotional core of this role very well. Jeanne Larranaga plays her mother Madame Armfeldt and turns "Liaisons" into a star moment. Bridget Carly Marsh has so much stage poise as Desiree's daughter Fredrika that I wished that she had more to do.
Sarah Cassidy is Countess Charlotte Malcolm, a featured part that attracts a lot of attention. A few years ago she would have been playing Anne. Cassidy has tremendous talent, playing an incredibly vast array of characters, always to great effect. Opposite her as Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm is Brian Chunn. This is almost a perfect part for him, but the performance I attended did not show him at his best, presumably just tired from a very long week of tech, dress rehearsal, and several regular performances. Having heard him sing the heck out of such baritone stalwarts as "Bui-Doi" (Miss Saigon) and playing The Baker in Into the Woods. The quintet chorus include some very strong voices. From top to bottom, vocally, they are Madison Bradley, Victoria Gross, Meg Newsome, Ian Cicco and Cory Woomert. In the totally thankless part of Frid, Madame Armfeldt's butler, is Brian Craft, doubling duty from his usual post of Director of Marketing and Outreach.
Rick Kerby directs beautifully. The opening waltz sequence in which the entire story about to enfold is danced is dazzling, even if newcomers to A Little Night Music may not follow it. Music direction by Rick Bogner is with a strong sense of the style, but he is at a disadvantage because few musicals are as badly damaged by a reduction in their orchestrations as this one. Scenic design by Ken Mooney allows Kerby to try and replicate original director Hal Prince's vision of movie-like flow between multiple locations where important action is occurring. Costume design by Becky Evans looks lovely from close to the stage where I was seated and probably even better from a little further back. Lighting by Joseph P. Oshry is effective, especially in the second act where he manages to create the eeriness of endless light, alluded to in Sondheim's opening ("The sun won't set, its dark as its going to get"). Sound design by Tom Sell seems a bit crackly when heard from close up, but this has never bothered me when seated further back. I suspect it is due to the tricky acoustics of this hall.
A Little Night Music is one of my favorite musicals and decidedly one of my five or so favorite theater scores, so it's no surprise that I am delighted to have such a good production in town. Sadly, a couple seated beside me decided to forgo the second act, so I guess Sondheim, even at his most accessible, is not for everyone. But I still highly recommend Manatee Players' A Little Night Music.
Manatee Players presents A Little Night Music at Manatee Center for the Performing Arts through November 12, 2017, at 502 3rd Ave W., Bradenton FL; 941-748-0111, manateeplayers.com.