Wednesday, December 29, 2010

‘A Little Night Music’ for Only a Little Longer


is a swan-song review not because “A Little Night Music” won’t always be a staple of musical theater. In fact, there will be many productions of Stephen Sondheim’s 1973 musical for years to come.

Bernadette Peters in her ‘Send in the Clowns’ solo in a scene from "A Little Night Music." Photos by Joan Marcus.

This one is closing on 9 Jan. after a yearlong Broadway run at the Walter Kerr Theatre and two casts. “A Little Night Music” is based on a classic film and the only comedy by Ingmar Bergman, “Smiles of A Summer Night.” SS, who wrote the music and lyrics, and Hugh Wheeler, who wrote the book, turned this lovely work into an elegant and clever musical play.

It takes place in Sweden circa 1900 and concerns a troupe of provincial actors whose star is aging actress Desiree Armfeldt. Most of the action takes place, though, at a weekend country house where old loves and new passions come to the fore.

“A Little Night Music” also stars Stephen R. Buntrock as prominent lawyer, Fredrik Egerman; Hunter Ryan Herdlicka is his son and theological student, Henrik, and Ramona Mallory is his very young wife, Anne. Elaine Stritch stars as Desiree’s mother, Madame Armfeldt; Keaton Whittaker is Desiree’s daughter, Fredrika; Bradley Dean is Desiree’s lover, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, and Erin Davie plays the Count's wife, Charlotte. (See video clips: http://http//

Director Trevor Nunn created a very special production of “A Little Night Music,” which originated at England’s Menier Chocolate Factory.

Bernadette Peters as Desiree and Stephen R. Buntrock as Fredrik Egerman in "A Little Night Music."

Broadway’s “A Little Night Music” hit its high point with the casting of Bernadette Peters as Desiree. BP took over from Catherine Zeta-Jones, who was a plausible, charming and glamorous Desiree, but it is not glamour that makes for a great Desiree. When the cast sings “The Glamorous Life,” it is meant to be ironic. CZ-J’s presence on the stage undercut the irony. The older BP, on the other hand, acts out the irony of the song with every breath she takes. She throws all of her tiny frame into her character’s world-weary longing and hits all her self-knowing notes. BP is the consummate Desiree - seductive and wily.

Fredrik, a former lover of Desiree’s, has taken Anne to one of the performances of Desiree’s company. While at the theater Anne realizes the connection and insists on going home. One thing leads to another and love is rekindled between Desiree and Fredrik. Complicating matters, though, is the dim-witted Count. Meanwhile Desiree, seeing the possibility of reuniting with Fredrik despite his new wife, invites him and his family for a weekend at her mother’s country estate. As Act II opens, the Count – jealous and suspicious of Fredrik’s relationship with his mistress – and his beleaguered wife also turn up as houseguests.

Elaine Stritch as Madane Armfeldt and Bernadette Peters as Desiree in "A Little Night Music."

Madame Armfeldt, an aging coquette exasperated that her daughter does not make better use of her charms, has lead an extraordinary life. Prosperous love affairs have left her well-to-do and afforded her a respectable household in which she can receive respectable visitors. She is as eccentric as a hostess as she is otherwise. ES has chosen to be the only cast member without an Anglicized accent, and plays Madame Armfeldt broadly as if she were a gun-toting grandma. It is an interesting choice. ES pulls it off with aplomb, culminating her star turn with a languidly, lustrous version of the classic “Liaisons,” half-sung, half-declared.

Leigh Ann Larkin as housemaid Petra, who enjoys life and does not want to see it pass her by, is outstanding in her solo, “The Miller’s Son.” ED, as the Countess Charlotte Malcolm, is excellent at the opposite end of the hedonistic scale – a tired and put-upon wife to a silly and philandering man.

BP as Desiree shines throughout, but her rendition of “Send in the Clowns” is truly poignant storytelling. SRB, who moved into the role of Fredrik with the cast changes, gives a nuanced performance. Handsome and distinguished and able to laugh at himself as the lawyer Egerman, he also possesses a handsome and distinguished voice.

And the night smiles on “A Little Night Music” for just a short while yet.

Visit to learn more about “A Little Night Music.”

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