A Little Night Music

September 16, 2015

in Musicals

Musical (1973)

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler
Original orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick
Suggested by a film by Ingmar Bergman
Originally producted and directed on Broadway by Harold Prince

Directed by Peter DuBois

Music Director: Jonathan Mastro; Choreographer: Daniel Pelzig; Scenic Design: Derek McLane; Costume Design: Robert Morgan; Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter; Sound Design: Jon Weston; Casting: Alaine Alldaffer; Production Stage Manager: Emily F. McMullen; Stage Manager: Kevin Schlagle

Huntington Theatre Company
Boston University Theater
Symphony Hall area, Boston

September 11 – October 11, 2015

With Andrew O’Shanick (Mr. Lindquist), Wendi Bergamini (Mrs. Nordstrom), Amy Barker (Mrs. Anderssen), Nick Sulfaro (Mr. Erlanson), Aimee Doherty (Mrs. Segstrom), Lauren Weintraub (Fredrika Armfledt), Bobbie Steinbach (Madame Armfeldt), Sam Simahk (Frid), Pablo Torres (Henrik Egerman), Morgan Kirner (Anne Egerman), Stephen Bogardus (Fredrik Egerman), McCaela Donovan (Petra), Haydn Gwynne (Desiree Armfeldt), Sarah Oakes Muirhead (Malla), Patrick Varner (Bertrand), Mike McGowan (Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm), Lauren Molina (Coutness Charlotte Malcolm)

Stephen Bogardus as Fredrik Egerman, Haydn Gwynne as Desiree Armfeldt in 'A Little Night Music'

Stephen Bogardus as Fredrik Egerman
Haydn Gwynne as Desiree Armfeldt
in “A Little Night Music”
Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Courtesy of Huntington Theatre Company

A stunningly good production of what many consider to be Sondheim’s masterwork.

Fredrik Egerman (Stephen Bogardus), a middle-aged man, is newly married to Anne (Morgan Kirner) who is only eighteen. Almost a year into the marriage, it is still not consummated.

Fredrik and Anne go to the theater to see the celebrated actress Desiree Armfeldt (Haydn Gwynne) and Fredrik, unbeknownst to Anne – having had a former liaison with the middle-aged stage actress – reengages with her.

Meanwhile, Desiree is marking time in an affair with Count Malcolm (Mike McGowan), a big blustery man with a lot of bravado and not too much wit. Malcolm’s wife, Countess Malcolm (Lauren Molina), longs for him and would much like him back.

To make a long story short, secrets gradually get revealed and the two couples wind up for the weekend at the country house of Desiree’s mother, Madame Armfeldt (Bobbie Steinbach), where all hell, and lots of fun, break loose, yielding equally hysterical and poignant outcomes.

Petra (McCaela Donovan), a maid, Henrik Egerman (Pablo Torres), Fredrik’s twentyish son by a former marriage, and Fredrika Armfeldt (Lauren Weintraub), Desiree’s young daughter, all figure integrally into the complex variations.

I have previously seen two excellent productions of this show. One was at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston in 2004, with Christopher Chew (now appearing in My Fair Lady at the Lyric Stage) as Fredrik Egerman, Andrea Ross as Fredrika Armfeldt, and Bobbie Steinbach, who appears in the same role in the current production at the Huntington, as Madame Armfeldt. The other production was on Broadway in 2010 and starred Bernadette Peters as Desiree Armfeldt and Elaine Stritch as Madame Armfeldt.

The current production at the Huntington is… superbly good in almost every respect, truly out of this world.

The current production at the Huntington is – hard to believe – even better than those two other truly spectacular productions. It is superbly good in almost every respect, truly out of this world.

Based on Ingmar Bergman’s delightful film comedy Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) and playfully titled with the English translation of Mozart’s chamber masterwork Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (1787), A Little Night Music is a beautifully conceived comedy which Sondheim, with incredible wit as a lyricist and matured capabilities as a composer, created in 1973 in early mid-career. It is widely recognized as a masterwork of the modern musical stage.

A Little Night Music… is widely recognized as a masterwork of the modern musical stage.

Sondheim had begun as a pure lyricist, crafting immortal lyrics for West Side Story (1957), with music by Leonard Bernstein, and Gypsy (1959), with music by Jule Styne. It is hard to imagine that he was not yet thirty (born in 1930).

Sondheim’s first solo musical was the still astonishingly good A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (1962). Its music is catchy and fifty years later is still appealing but it is composed in a mostly rudimentary Broadway showbiz style. (The lyrics, however, are every bit world-class Sondheim.)

By the time he got to writing A Little Night Music ten years later, however, his talents as a composer had come into full bloom. Its music is richly and elaborately conceived, with a beautifully realized score as well as a finely wrought book with witty and poetic lyrics.

Cast from 'A Little Night Music'

Foreground: Stephen Bogardus as Fredrik Egerman
Lauren Molina as Countess Chrlotte Malcolm
Background: Bobbie Steinbach as Madame Armfeldt
in “A Little Night Music”
Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Courtesy of Huntington Theatre Company

The production at the Huntington shines in so many ways that the overall effect is stunning.

Musically, it is top-notch. Every last voice is beautiful and rich in its own way.

Electronic microphones are used – they are par for the course in almost all productions now – but that only enhances what here is a baseline of universal musical accomplishment throughout.

Stephen Bogardus’s Fredrik Egerman is dignified and appealing in a graceful-older-man way. He and Mike McGowan, as the Count, face off hilariously throughout while he and Haydn Gwynne (Desiree) make a great pair.

Gwynne as Desiree is an interesting and wonderful choice. She has a gracefully relaxed manner that carries with it a good sense of fun, as well carrying the implicitly wise recognition of advancing age and its very particular desires for some degree of coherence in her life. She also looks, appropriately and appealingly, like a mature woman who shows her age without muting her allure. The stars of the recent Broadway revival, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Bernadette Peters, also played mature Desirees, but are both extremely youthful looking middle-agers. Gwynne’s portrayal of someone with earthiness and lustiness but visible maturity has a touchingly realistic and welcome appeal.

Morgan Kirner (Anne Armfeldt) – remarkably still a student at Boston Conservatory – has a wonderful voice, a sweetly playful demeanor, and fits in brilliantly well with the rest of this supremely accomplished roster. She does a good job playing off Bogardus’ Fredrik, Pablo Torres’ delightfully moody and intense Fredrik and Lauren Molina’s spoofily appealing Countess Malcolm.

McCaela Donovan as Petra in 'A Little Night Music'

McCaela Donovan as Petra
in “A Little Night Music”
Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Courtesy of Huntington Theatre Company

McCaela Donovan, a vivid and expressive Boston-based musical actress with a fabulous voice, here gives a great run as Petra, the saucy maid. She offers a wonderfully ribald presence throughout – a bit reminiscent, appropriately, of Elizabeth Berridge’s charmingly bawdy portrayal of Mozart’s wife Constanze in Miklos Forman’s classic film of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus (1984). To boot, Donovan has a stirring voice – she knocks it dead in the second act solo, The Miller’s Son, replete with overtones about class and destiny – and leaves the audience breathless.

Also on hand throughout as part of the chamber ensemble is the very fine Boston musical actress Aimee Doherty (Mrs. Segstrom), whose voice, like Donovan’s, is remarkable, and who lights up a stage at every turn. The other members of that supporting chamber ensemble are all distinctively good in different ways.

Chamber Ensemble: Andrew O’Shanick as Mr. Lindquist, Nick Sulfaro as Mr. Erlanson, Aimee Doherty as Mrs. Segstrom, Wendi Bergamini as Mrs. Nordstrom, Amy Barker as Mrs. Anderssen in 'A Little Night Music'

Chamber Ensemble
Andrew O’Shanick as Mr. Lindquist
Nick Sulfaro as Mr. Erlanson
Aimee Doherty as Mrs. Segstrom
Wendi Bergamini as Mrs. Nordstrom
Amy Barker as Mrs. Anderssen
in “A Little Night Music”
Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Courtesy of Huntington Theatre Company

Bobbie Steinbach, who portrayed Madame Armfeldt in that excellent Lyric Stage production of A Little Night Music eleven years ago, reprises it here, with beautiful and witty elegance. She gives a wise, romantic and wry account of the role, interacting, with charmingly offhand bravado, with Lauren Weintraub’s Fredrika. Steinbach’s first act solo, Liaisons, has a distinctively resonant majesty to it.

Lauren Weintraub’s Fredrika is also surprisingly accomplished, offering great stage appeal and wonderful quality of voice, which she gets to exhibit vividly in The Glamorous Life, a paean to her mother.

Mike McGowan is a wonderfully blustery Count and Lauren Molina is an equally lusty and appealing Countess, offered with an appealing allure not always conveyed in this role of the betrayed wife.

Pablo Torres is a sweet and intense Hendrik, and gives a great, resounding account in his existential aria Later.

Staging is simple but wonderfully elegant; put together with the superb choreography, the stage is interesting and lively throughout.

Costumes are beautifully and notably done, their glamorous elegance dramatically appealing; and where they are earthily basic – as in Petra’s outfit – done with lusty charm.

The well loaded pit orchestra plays without a hitch; it is a true pleasure to hear this intricate and lovely score rendered expertly. Jonathan Mastro’s music direction is superb.

Director Peter DuBois has done a masterful job here overall, drawing superior performances all around.

For Sondheim and musical theater lovers, this is a production not to be missed, over-the-top good.

– BADMan

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