A Little Night Music

A Little Night Music
a kate west review
music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler
directed by Scott Ellis
at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion, 135 N. Grand Avenue, L.A. 90012
July 7 – July 31, 2004; Contact (213) 972-8001 or www.losangelesopera.com

Stephen Sondheim, the preeminent voice of the sophisticated musical, is so prolific that it is impossible to list all of his beloved works of musical art. “A Little Night Music,” one of his best-loved and familiar musicals, first appeared in the late 1980’s and may be classified as an operetta (like “Sweeney Todd,” another Sondheim masterpiece). Known for his ability to take on complicated projects, Sondheim understood that it is not easy to deconstruct an Ingmar Bergman film (in this case “Smiles of a Summer Night”) and turn it into an audience-accessible musical. But if anyone can do it, Sondheim can. The current production at the Los Angeles Opera does fine justice to the stylish piece. Starring such Broadway luminaries as Zoe Caldwell, Victor Garber and Judith Ivey, Sondheim’s tale of lost love touches a cord, even while couched in the moral ambiguity of adultery.

Fredrik Egerman (the irresistibly suave and debonair Victor Garber), has married again, this time to the young virgin Anne (Laura Benanti) and his brooding son Henrik (Danny Gurwin) is quite obsessed with her. Meanwhile, Fredrik’s old love, the prominent stage actress Desirée Armfeldt (the dynamic Judith Ivey), has taken a lover, the married Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (booming Marc Kudisch), but is unhappy with her dim-witted catch. She is secretly pining away for real love and feeling guilty about her fatherless daughter Fredrika (Ashley Rose Orr on certain evenings). Her grandmother, Madame Armfeldt (the immeasurable Zoe Caldwell), hovers in the background, commenting on the foolishness of youth, disapproving especially of Desirée’s nomadic lifestyle while raising Fredrika as her own.

Count Malcolm has problems as well, oblivious of his jealous long-suffering wife, Countess Charlotte Malcolm (Michele Pawk), who plots with Anne to get revenge against the husband-stealing actress Desirée. He only wants Desirée as a trophy, having no real feelings for anyone other than himself. He is furious that Fredrik, after seeing Desirée in a play, has gone back to her, partly frustrated by not consummating his new marriage and partly because he cannot seem to stop thinking about her. Fredrik’s home life torments him. His young wife Anne does not appreciate her older husband and his intellectually tortured son does not appreciate his own youth.

“A Little Night Music” is essentially a story about losing your only love, not appreciating what you have right in front of you and denying growing older (as evidenced by Fredrik’s falling for an 18-year old while still in love with Desirée). The only healthy, normal, vibrant character of the piece with no neurosis or hang ups is the servant girl Petra (Jessica Boevers) illustrated best when she sings the beautiful “The Miller’s Son.” She meets a man she likes, having enjoyed many men along the way, pursues him and they end up together without any agonizing discussions, a shining example to the rest of the wealthier phobic group that it is possible to find uncomplicated happiness. Countess Malcolm makes a half-hearted attempt at subterfuge, but as all the characters soon learn, it is not that much fun and not what they really want. Rather than pursuing what they do not need and running away from the truth, they are better off shedding the pretense and just following their hearts. After a climactic duel, most of the characters recognize how to be happy and there are even some surprising love matches.

Director Scott Ellis has assembled a fine cast, wonderfully integrated into the musical brilliance of the Sondheim score. From the famous “Send in the Clowns” to the upbeat “The Glamorous Life” and the tongue-in-cheek “You Must Meet My Wife,” the production showcases the best in theatrical talent. The three leads are a special treat but the rest of the cast is delightful as well and everyone involved from the Choreographer Susan Stroman to the Costume Designer Lindsay W. Davis maintains an operatic and just perfection. This production offers not only great entertainment but also a strong message of love and life. It may force you to think but it is well worth exercising a few extra brain cells in order to fully appreciate the evening’s outcome. Kudos to the Los Angeles Opera.

A Little Night Music (1973 Original Broadway Cast)

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