A Little Night Music
Written by Stephen Sondheim (music/lyrics)
Due to popular demand, now extended to July 22nd!
Writers’ ‘Night Music’ casts us in its passionate spell
|Writers’ Theatre presents|
|A Little Night Music|
Review by Lawrence Bommer
A third of a century after its birth, A Little Night Music feels like it’s always been here. Wisely and warmly, composer Stephen Sondheim and writer Hugh Wheeler, borrowing from one of Ingmar Bergman’s finest films, compassionately anatomize three mismatched turn-of-the-century couples, midsummer fools of love caught in the spell of one of Sweden’s languorous "white" nights.
Farcical, melancholy, carnal or bittersweet, the plot alters with the characters, who, like Shakespeare’s tangled lovers, amorously re-sort themselves in the course of a weekend in the country. In two and a half wonderful hours we see a legend come true: With its “perpetual anticipation” and endless twilight, the Swedish summer night smiles three times—on the young, the fools and the old. So does the show: Sondheim’s all-waltz score supplies the requisite verve, wit and drive: You won’t mistake these waltzes for Strauss, and every one advances the story and enlarges the stakes.
But you knew that. Is Writers’ Theatre’s revival worthy of the work, as in many ways Goodman Theatre’s 1994 trivialization was not? YES! Suitably lavish, especially in Rachel Anne Healy’s sumptuous, suave and fashion-plate accurate Edwardian costumes. And William Brown’s swirling staging, performed on a much smaller stage, is free and fun, so intricately shaped it can afford to be as natural as fireflies in flight.
Framed in diaphanous lace curtains, Kevin Depinet‘s jewel-box thrust-set all but unleashes the action upstage and into the wings, with only a few pieces of furniture and pivotal props needed to suggest a dressing room, 18th century Scandinavian stage, drawing rooms, a large lawn and the requisite magical woods. Jesse Klug lights this magic act with all the lenses that four-star make-believe requires.
The same artful elegance graces the unmiked and–considering the context–unexpectedly spontaneous performances. As Mozartean as the title, this A Little Night Music is blessed with cunning casting capable of generating the suggestions and the actualities of sexual friction that the capricious story requires.
Simpering but never stupid, Kristen French instantly conveys all the quicksilver intensity of 18-year-old Anne Egerman, her confusion about a fallow marriage to a much older lawyer impossible to hide or to dismiss. No teenage virgin, Royen Kent’s forthright Henrik sulks suitably but never condescends: His sweetly ignorant seminary student really is torn between adolescent vulnerability and sexual awakening. Henrik’s “Later” never reeks of self-pity, just all the doubts we once harbored and mustn’t forget.
With her devastating deadpan, Tiffany Scott exacts toxic laughs as brittle, bitter Charlotte; never playing the wronged wife too broadly, she preserves her pathos amid her plotting. Brandon Dahlquist, brassy and unrelenting as her strapping Count Carl-Magnus, energizes Sondheim’s more muscular and military waltzes and beefs up the depiction of male hypocrisy and entitlement.
At the center of this story is the matriarch whose amorous experiences fuel Sondheim’s captivating blend of cynicism and sentimentality. As magisterial Madame Arnfeldt, the great and always beautiful Deanna Dunagan delivers no flinty Swedish Lady Bracknell. This is the real deal – Wheeler’s wistful, life-proof dowager-courtesan with all her rueful survivor wisdom and a sly smile that could melt icecaps. Her fully felt “Liaisons” is a sex novel bathed in redemptive nostalgia and minus a single regret.
Crowning a talent-soaked ensemble full of artists so accomplished they can afford to take risks, Shannon Cochran makes us never want to forget–or even be momentarily apart from—her stage-weary, glamorous Desiree and her bittersweet anthem "Send in the Clowns." So assured is Cochran’s take on her character’s glorious contradictions, she can afford to get goofy, recalling a flustered Lucille Ball when circumstances betrayed her.
Jonathan Weir’s Fredrik, caught up in a frenzied mid-life crisis between a hasty marriage and a lasting liaison, registers every whiplash plot twist: Finally, by painful process of elimination, Fredrik finds his true old love. Musically impeccable, the five, chorus-commenting Lieder Singers turn all their lovely ¾ time into a merry counterpoint to these Shakespeare-sharp mistakes of a summer night. Presenting the earthy side of summer passion, Brianna Borger’s Petra makes “I Shall Marry The Miller’s Son” a testament to lust at its most calculating and liberating.
So many lovely moments embellish this well-felt, well-sung Night Music — it’s easy and enthralling to sense the spell and see the smiles of this special summer night.
A Little Night Music continues through
July 8th July 22nd at Writers’ Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe (map), with performances Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm and 6pm. Tickets are $35-$70, and are available by phone (847-242-6000) or online at PrintTixUSA.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at WritersTheatre.org. (Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes, includes one intermission)
All photos by Michael Brosilow
Shannon Cochran (Desiree Arnfeldt); Deanna Dunagan (Madame Arnfeldt); Jonathan Weir (Fredrik Egerman); Brianna Borger (Petra); Shannon Corey (Fredericka Arnfeldt); Brandon Dahlquist (Count Malcolm); John Finley (Frid); Kristen French (Anne Egerman); Cory Goodrich (Malla); Royen Kent (Henrik Egerman); Tiffany Scott (Countess Malcolm)
behind the scenes
William Brown (director); Valerie Maze (musical director); Roberta Duchak (music supervisor); Kevin Depinet (set design); Jesse Klug (lighting); Rachel Anne Healy (costumes); Andrew Hansen (sound design); Nick Heggestad (props); Michael Brosilow (photos)