Cygnet Theatre Company is reprising Stephen Sondheim's lovely and charming boudoir farce, "A Little Night Music" that, according to the composer "was written in some form of triple time, so that the whole score would feel vaguely like a long waltz".
With music and lyrics by Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler, the story is based on the late Ingmar Bergman's bittersweet film, "Smiles of a Summer Night," the first of his films to win a special prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1956.
The original 1973 Broadway production of Sondheim's musical garnered six Tony’s including Best Musical, and it's not difficult to understand why.
While Sondheim's melodies may not always bring satisfaction to everyone's ears, and his lofty set of characters may not suit everyone’s appetite, "Night Music," under the right director (as in Murray) cannot be denied its place in the annals of musical theatre history.
Then the waltz was believed to be erotic and sensual because of the close contact with the dancers' partners' bodies. Public uproar over the closeness and dreamlike movements caused it to be legally banned in parts of Switzerland and Germany. Something to ponder. Now two hundred years later, Sondheim's tribute to the waltz is played out in "Night Music."
The plot of "A Little Night Music," set at the turn of the century Sweden, is somewhat of a challenge. It entails a convoluted scheme of misconstrued glances, unwanted advances, huge egos, unfaithful dalliances, adultery, love, lust and duels and three mismatched couples. It all unravels itself out in three-quarter time.
How it gets sorted out is the genius of Sondheim and Wheeler, as the music and oh-so-clever lyrics and events glide like a waltz through the thickening intrigue to its ultimate resolution.
Artistic Director Sean Murray, who not only plays the lead male role as Frederik Egerman as he did in 2008, he also directs as he did then. He guides his talented players seamlessly. This time around however Murray’s maturing presence and more calculated movements acquired over time, work more to his advantage.
After eleven months of marriage, the union between Frederik and Anne has not been consummated. (“Now”). Henrik, (Nick Eiter) Frederik’s son, who is studying to be a Lutheran pastor, is madly in love with his stepmother and plagued with guilt over his carnal stirrings.
His father, frustrated with his young wife's excuses of not bedding him, meanders off to his old flame Desirée (a beautifully talented Karole Forman) a woman who steals the hearts of married men and who is more than willing to rekindle their past love affair. (“Remember”)
David Humphrey’s’ Count Carl-Mangus is a howl and bully who falls all over himself as Desirée's current lover. He gets all bent out of shape when he discovers Fredrik in her boudoir and in his dressing gown.
Sensing that something is rotten in Sweden, the Count challenges Egerman to a duel. Needless to say, both men are out of practice and nothing is resolved as both manage to make complete fools of themselves.
Meanwhile, the count's wife, Countess Charlotte Malcolm (the ever so talented Sandy Campbell), who knows about her husband's dalliances, decides to go off and have a little tryst of her own.
Back at the country house, designed sparsely by Sean Fanning, Desirée's mother, Madame Armfeldt (Anise Ritchie), and her granddaughter Fredrika (Faith Nibbe), await the guests. Madame Armfield's many memories of her own romances with counts and other dignitaries’ come to her mind, and are shared with her granddaughter.
At the beginning of the play, she explains to her granddaughter the meaning of the summer nights. She tells of how the summer nights smile three times at the follies of human beings. The first smile smiles at the young, who know nothing. The second, at the fools, who know too little…and the third at the old who know too much.
With those words of wisdom Madam Armfield, tired of life and understanding that all good things must come to an end, is preparing for her own move to her next adventure. She would like her daughter, Desirée to give up the theatre and come home and raise her own daughter, an idea not so far-fetched.
As Fredrik finally manages his way to Desirée's room, it prompts Desirée to sing "Send in the Clowns" realizing that her life on stage isn't the role she should continue to play.
She has found her true love and ultimately, so has he, but it's too little too late. The characters and their charade are virtually stripped down to rock bottom and most of the unresolved gets resolved. Young get together with the young, most of the parts now form a whole and all is right with the world according to Sondheim.
What an enchanting evening and what a strong cast. Clad in Jeanne Reith’s gorgeous period costumes, the cast and company literally sweep across the stage forming perfect pictures while framing Sondheim's lyrics to the action with musical direction by Dr. Terry O’Donnell and Chad Lee Thymes sound design.
Karole Foreman, a pro of the highest degree, is simply charming and captivating as Fredrik's found-again lover, Desirée. Foreman, a seasoned actor by anyone’s account is every bit as commanding as her part demands. Her sense of timing is impeccable and her voice rings out strong as her solo “Clowns” is pitch perfect. She easily fits the bill as the youngest looking middle-aged actress, serious yet able to laugh at herself and gracious while not gloating at the turn of events about her.
Campbell’s Charlotte is picture and point on perfect. “Every Day I Little Death” is her love lament to her boring lug of a husband who can’t seem to see the trees through the forest and realize his wife only has eyes for him. Plotting to regain some dignity, she plots against him with Anne to carry on an affair with Anne’s husband, Frederik.
The more mature Murray is modest and convincing as the foolish husband and serious lover, Fredrik. Tones of regret and urgency can be heard when he sings "Now" as his attempts to coax his young bride to submit to his sexual desires after eleven months with nothing to show for it. Murray can still knock it out of the park and he is up to the task more as Desirée's lover than as Anne's husband.
Anise Ritchie’s Madame Armfeldt is not only beautiful in Peter Herman’ larger than life wig when we first meet her, her voice as strong as ever and she is most convincing as the wise family head sitting in her wheelchair, watching over the circus-like atmosphere while drinking to her death as she raises her glass of champagne in a toast "To Life!" at the gathering.
And the games and follies go on with no less than eighteen of Sondheim's sometimes familiar and some not-so-familiar tunes and lyrics suited to fit Bergman's comedy/drama.
Contributing to the sumptuousness of the musical Jake Rosco and Megan Carmitchel (“The Miller’s Son”) are perfect lover’s, Joseph Grienenberger (oft seen in the now defunct Gilbert & Sullivan productions of long ago) is charming as Mr. Lindquist, Catie Marron as Mrs. Segstrom, Debra Wanger as Mrs. Nordstrom, Christine Hewitt as Mrs. Anderson all add to posh and riches of the soon to be obsolete upper class.
"A Little Night Music" is a dandy theater experience from the "Overture" to the "Last Waltz."
See you at the theater.
Dates: Through April 22nd
Organization: Cygnet Theatre Company
Production Type: Musical
Where: 4040 Twiggs Street, Old Town
Ticket Prices: Start at $43.00
Venue: Theatre in Old Town
Photo: Daren Scott