ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp BerkshireReview
By Elyse Sommer
To paraphrase a line from "Send In the Clowns" the most famous song from A Little Night Music, applause for Julianne Boyd, her sophisticated Broadway-worthy revival of A Little Night Music is finally here.
Handsomely staged and choreographed and with a cast that can act as well as sing this latest Barrington Stage co-production (with Orpheum Theatre/ Foxborough and Capital Repertory Theatre/Albany) will not disappoint those who applauded Ms. Boyd's last big musical, Cabaret (linked at end).
Broadway critic Brooks Atkinson's concern that Sondheim's return to the waltzing tempo might mark a return to the operetta format "happily discarded in the 1920s" was unfounded. Sondheim's sophisticated score and lyrics and the overall richness of the theatrical elements stripped this operetta of the sugar-coating associated with the genre. It was after all, based on a film in which Ingmar Bergman, who like Sondheim was hardly noted for fluffy farces, turned the country weekend comedy into an intelligent treatise on manners, mores and sex.
Mr. Atkinson's concerns notwithstanding -- (he did admire the look of the show and its cast which included Glynis John, Len Cariou, Hermione Gielgud) -- A Little Night Music played for 600 performances and won six Tony awards. "Send In the Clowns" was recorded by Ms. John, as well as Judy Collins and Frank Sinatra. While there has been no Broadway revival, productions elsewhere waltz on, one of the most recent in London with one Dame Judy Densch.
Since the Berkshire revival must fit within the limited time slot dictated by summer theater scheduling, I won't speculate whether it could pull in audiences for two years, but judging from the enthusiasm at the Sunday performance I attended, the word of mouth is sure to go out about this chance to see a champagne production at beer budget prices. While the Consolati Performing Arts Center has generous seating capacity, and the show will run for almost a month, don't put off reserving your tickets.
Before I train my critical magnifying glass on the highlights of the show, a brief plot summary: The time is the turn of the century, the place Sweden. A middle aged lawyer, Frederik Egerman, (Michael deVris) is living in unconsummated matrimonial distress with Anne (Emma Lampert) who's the same age (18) as his son Henrik (Seth Teter) who secretly loves his stepmother. This being part Mozart, part farce and all romance, there's Désirée's current lover, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Christopher Vettel) whose great physical prowess is offset by underwhelming intellectual acuity. To add to the complications of this quadrangle there's the Count's long suffering Countess (Gayton Scott) who foils her husband's plot to break up the affair he suspects between Frederik and his mistress.
While Hugh Wheeler's book has enough witty dialogue to make this soufflé of a plot rise, the heavy lifter here is Sondheim's beautiful score, filled with clever lyrics with many apt literary allusions. The one certain to be recognized song, "Send in the Clowns" does not show up until well into Act II, but when Leslie Denniston delivers this haunting lament it proves well worth the wait. Her reprise with Michael DeVries wonderfully captures their big romantic moment.
There are more than a dozen other equally engaging and intricately constructed songs, all interpreted with style by the talented cast -- from the finely synchronized ensemble numbers (by Brandon Firla, Jane Brockman, Sadie Dawkins, Dennis R. St. Pierre and Sunita Param) to the solos and duets that give all the key players their moment in the spotlight. Some standouts include:
Christopher Vettel, a perfect peacock with a terrific voice is a wonderfully pompous, pea-brained philanderer. "In Praise of Women" in which he sums up his own amusing philosophy of fidelity is a model of comic timing.
The first act's grand finale "A Weekend in the Country" has the play's conscience, young Henrik joins in with "A weekend in the country, the bees in their hives/ The shallow worldly figures, the frivolous lives/ The devil's companions know not whom they serve/ It might be instructive to observe.
The suffering wife Charlotte's rueful "Every Day a Little Death" because it brings "a little sting in the heart and in the head."
Victoria Boothby as Désirée's mother sings an amusing, deep throated ode to the bygone days of profitable"Liaisons". She complains that she tried to steer her daughter right, "I even named her Desiree" but to no avail for In a world where the princes are lawyers, "What can anyone expect".
Becca Ayers, who played Sally Bowles in last season's Cabaret makes the most of a smaller part, that of an earthy maid. Her big solo "I'll Marry the Miller's Son" sums up her youthful philosophy of having as much fun as possible before settling down to one man (as "Send In the Clowns" points to the price of not knowing when to stop). Until Petra marries her miller's son, however, she knows "There are mouths to be kissed, before mouths to be fed"
I've already mentioned the handsome staging which is lush without being unduly glitzy. John Coyne's sets change effortlessly and smoothly, without mechanical devices, but greatly abetted by Matthew's Frey's lighting. Jeffrey Fender's costumes are delectable and when the women arrive at Madame Armfeldt's estate in their motoring hats you don't need any model T Fords on stage, (as the Broadway production provided), to envision them.
If you're a Sondheim fan and have seen A Little Night Music before, you'll find this dashing production worth another visit. If you're new to Sondheim and have been influenced by comments about his dark and unmelodic tendencies, here's your chance to lay those comments to rest.
For those of you who use our Kids Okay ratings for New York shows to decide on whether to make this a family outing, we'd rate this show
OK for ages 13 and up. Young teens, and even mature 10-12 year olds, will identify with Tasha Danner who plays Desiree's young daughter and enjoy the music and dancing and gorgeous costumes. However, while youngsters might not get some of the ironies in the lyrics, don't count on the sexual joustings to pass over their heads. And so, caveat emptor, or know your own child.
To read our review of last season's Barrington Stage production of Cabaret, go here
For our review of the current New York production go here and our Second Thoughts feature including references to the Barrington Stage production, go here.