A LITTLE NIGHT MUSICBook by Hugh Wheeler
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Inspired by the Ingrid Bergman film Smiles of a Summer Night
Directed by - William R Park
Music Director - Bruce Greer
Stage Manager - Catheryn Hooper
Lighting Designer - David McKee
Set Designer - William R. Park and Ellen Miller
Costume Designer - Kristin Moore
Amy Mills - Madame Armfeldt
Stacia Goad-Malone - Desiree Armfeldt
Brian Mathis - Fredrik Egerman
Kayla Perkins - Anne Egerman
Max Swarner - Henrik Egerman
Lindsay Woppert - Petra
Jim Johnson - Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm
Rebekah Ankrom - Countess Charlotte Malcolm
Annika Horne - Frerika Armfeldt
Delynda Johnson-Morovec - Mrs. Segstrom
Monica Music - Mrs. Nordstrom
Julianne Mayer - Mrs. Anderson
Brock Johnson - Mr. Erlanson
Perry Sook - Mr. Lindquist/Frid
Reviewed Performance: 4/19/2013
Reviewed by Joel Taylor, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
From the time of A Little Night Music's original opening on Broadway on February 25, 1973 until present day, the show has been produced several thousand times; it included many well-known performers and won countless awards. The original cast included Glynis Johns, Len Cariou, and Hermmione Gingold. That year it won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award and the Tony Award for Best Musical. The next year began the National Tour with Jean Simmons, George Lee Andrews and Margaret Hamilton. After several years of successful productions in the West End, the production came back to Broadway in 2009 where it starred Catherine Zeta-Jones, Angela Lansbury and Alexander Hanson. Zeta-Jones won the Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for 2010. This production temporarily closed in June 2010 when the contracts for Zeta-Jones and Lansbury ended. The production resumed in July of that year with Bernadette Peters as Desiree and Elaine Stitch as Madame Armfeldt.
A Little Night Music has become a popular choice for amateur musical theatre, light opera companies and has also become part of the repertoire of opera companies in the United States and around the world. This time around, PFAMILY ARTS, has chosen the work for their spring musical.
The score for A Little Night Music has elements that are not commonly found in musical theater and may present challenges for performers. It includes complex meters, pitch changes, polyphony and high notes for both males and females. The challenge is increased when songs merge, because all need to be performed in the same key. Another interesting element with A Little Night Music is Sondheim's use of three's in his music. He organizes trios with the singers separated, while his duets are sung together about a third person. At several points, Sondheim has multiple performers each sing a different song simultaneously. Most of the music in the show is written in 3/4 time. This is also called Waltz Time. Some parts adopt a compound meter with a time signature.
One of the show's most recognizable songs, Send in the Clowns, was almost not in the show. Sondheim initially created the role of Desiree for a non-singing actress. When he discovered that the original Desiree, Glynis John, was able to sing, but could not "sustain a phrase", he created the song by ending lines with consonants that made for a short cut-off and short phrases, in order to be acted rather than sung. The song is not designed to be sung by those young and in love. Instead, it should be sung by a mature performer who has seen and experienced life.
The set design for this production, by William R. Park and Ellen Miller, primarily consists of sliding canvas panels that have the look of faux marble. Black or white chairs are brought on and off stage through various openings upstage that are created by moving the panels. A unique feature is the illusion of a pool that is created during the show by taking out a few of the center sections of the stage for the scene in which Petra passionalty signs Millers Son.
It is apparent that Costume Designer Kristin Moore decided to do the show using contemporary clothing in shades of black, whites and grays, with the exception of the brilliant red gown worn by Desiree and the more subdued red gown by Madame Armfeldt.
When the musical opens, the chorus enters singing the warm-up notes and setting the stage for the opening scenes. The entire stage is used, bringing the actors both up front and personal as well as at times allowing that physical distance needed to better appreciate the emotional qualities in some of the scenes such as when Desiree performs her famouse song.
It is both a blessing and a challenge that the performers are not using microphones in this performance space. It allows the more experienced voices to carry out to the audience with a much more intimate and personal quality. However, it also causes challenges for the less experienced or less confident performers, even while performing at the front edge of the stage, many of the songs and dialogue from some of the performers were not well heard. The accompanying music while beautiful to listen to, at times overpowered the voices of the performers.
Sondheim uses a group of five singers as narrator and chorus in much the same way that the chorus was used in early Greek productions. The group of five performers that comprise the Liebslieder Singers do well in advancing the story, bringing the few set pieces on and off stage, and all have voices that are of exceptional quality. Very notable are the voices of Perry Sook and Brock Johnson.
Jim Johnson, as Count Carl-Magnus Malcom, seems out of place at times as the Dragoon Commander and current lover of Desiree. However, his rich flowing voice helps compensate for what occasionally comes across as awkward character presentation and blocking.
Max Swarner adds a variety of levels to Henrik so that the audience can see the emotional anguish Henrik experiences as he battles the conflicting desires of the flesh and the desire to enter the ministry. When he sings ?Later?, the anguish and frustration that the character often seems to feel is evident through his voice, eyes, face and physicality.
Amy Mills, as Madame Armfeldt, adds a delightful balance of sarcasm, cynicism, wistfulness, and the experience of age as she hands out advice and barbs.
Kayla Perkins, as Anne Egerman had an acting performance that was not as well developed as the other performers on stage. This led to a character that was often not vocally heard and often seemed devoid of any depth. When she sang, it lacked the confidence and projection needed for this character. Lindsay Woppert, plays Petra, Annes maid. Woppert adds a tantalizing provocativeness with her vocal strength and her character development to this role with her sexual playfulness with Henrik, Anne, as well as in the scene in which she sings ?Millers Son?.
Stacia Goad-Malone is brilliant as Desiree. Her acting and vocal skills bring a consistent depth and believability to this role.
Whenever Goad-Malone she is on stage, she is Desiree, with all of her strengths and vulnerabilities. This is especially apparent in her scenes with Fredrik as they reminisce about what is and what could have been and sing the Send in the Clowns reprise.
Brian Mathis brings the balance of strength, confidence and middle-aged foolishness to his portrayal of Fredrik Egerman. In the early scenes, Mathis shows the pride and caring that he has with his young bride as he kisses her on the brow, as well as later when he goes to see Desiree and they sing You Must Meet My Wife. Though, the frustration of an almost year-old marriage that has yet to be consummated seemed to be lacking. The confrontation between Mathis (Fredrik) and Johnson (Carl-Magnus Malcom) in the bedroom scene humorously reminds me of two roosters squaring off against each other, each puffing up their feathers and posturing but not yet ready for battle.
This production has various levels of skills, acting experience and performances that while always entertaining also emphasize the disparity in strengths of some of the actors. There is also the challenge of not always being able to adequately hear all of the performers consistently. The contemporary set design, creative use of the space on the stage, and a costume design that is both subtle and stark at the same time bring PFAMILY ARTS A Little Night Music into current time that helps the audience better relate to the story that is about love, lost love, desire, jealousy, the desire to belong and frustrations that are a part of life.
4017 Preston Rd. #544, Plano, TX 75093
Runs through April 27th
Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday-Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday at 2:30 pm
Tickets are $35.00, students/seniors $25.00. There is an additional $5.00 for the floor lounge.
For info and to purchase tickets, go to www.pfamilyarts.org or call 972-378-1234