Entire contents copyright 2012 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
A Little Night Music has been enjoying resurgence in popularity. Undoubtedly prompted by the hugely successful 2010 Broadway revival that featured Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury, who were then replaced by the even more formidable team of Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch, this is the second local production of the season.
Having missed the other local effort, I am free from easy and obvious comparison, so this new entry from CenterStage, must stand or fall on its own merits. I am happy to report that this production stands up very well; a sumptuous and enchanting affair that is only held back by the limitations of the book. Adapted from the classic 1955 Ingmar Bergman film, Smiles of a Summer Night, the story, however witty the dialogue, maintains a certain chilly, Scandinavian reserve that makes the show less accessible than other great Sondheim shows. There is little to engage the audience the way the lurid violence and melodrama of Sweeney Todd or the delightfully deconstructed Fairy-tale charm of Into the Woods helped make those shows so memorable.
Yet, this IS Stephen Sondheim, and the beautifully structured score is magnificent and executed here by one of the strongest vocal ensembles yet assembled by director John R. Leffert. It begins with a chorus of five who sing as much as the principals and establish tone and atmosphere with stately presence and intricate harmony. They are: Jeff Sammons, Margot Woolridge, Christy Shircliff, Cory Vaughn, and Tymika Prince.
The main characters form around a famous stage actress and two of her lovers, their wives, a son, a daughter, and a couple of randy servants. There is also her mother, a wealthy older woman confined to a wheelchair who is given to wry and funny observations, and she is played with sly, vinegary charm by Barbara Meyerson Katz.
Colette Delaney is quite wonderful as the actress, Desiree Armfeldt. Vain and pretentious but the object of affection for two competing lovers, she effectively captures the mix of qualities that keep her always the center of attention but largely superficial until the second act number, “Send in the Clowns”. It is one of the most famous songs from any Sondheim score, the emotional highpoint of the show, and it is here given an exquisite reading by Ms. Delaney.
Russ Dunlap is very fine as Fredrik Egerman, the former lover with whom she is reunited, giving a rich and nicely colored delineation of the aging lothario who struggles in his marriage to a teenage girl. As the young bride, Emily Fields sings beautifully and nicely renders the appropriate superciliousness. As his son, Henrik, Kyle Braun fearlessly plumbs the dark comedy of a clerical student tormented by lustful desire. Lauren McCombs is a highlight as their servant, Petra, whose sexual appetite also runs comically high. It falls to her to follow “Send in the Clowns” with her own solo, “The Miller’s Son”, and, while not quite as impactful a piece of music, Ms. McCombs acquits herself admirably. Desiree’s current “dragoon” lover, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, is played by Rusty Henle with earnest good effort and good feel for the comedy, but he did not seem quite at home in his role in comparison to the rest of the cast. As his long-suffering wife, Jamie Tobelmann nearly steals her scenes with adroit comic timing and wry delivery of some of the best lines in the script. Peyton Evans does a good job as Desiree’s young daughter, Fredrika.
The design team has outdone themselves here, with a spare but striking set comprised of tree trunks captured within several large frames that, despite their wintery look, seemed somehow exactly appropriate. These were contrasted to vivid effect by lavish costumes from Shana Lincoln that were near perfect. This truly was one of the best looking shows I have seen at CenterStage, and, given their history of well-mounted productions, that is saying something.
Not every company can do justice to Sondheim’s complex and witty harmonies, but CenterStage does as splendid a job as one might wish for, proving once again that, at the top of their game, they are hard to beat for first-class musical theatre in Louisville.
Tim & Dair Mathistad
Katie & Chris Haulter
Kathy Todd Chaney
Angie Reed Garner