The famous musical, “A Little Night Music,” with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler, opened at 7:30 p.m. in the Tryon Festival Theatre on Oct. 25. It was later performed on Oct. 28 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 29 at 2 p.m.
As is well known, this Sondheim musical was based on a famous movie by Ingmar Bergman, “Smiles of a Summer Night,” a light comedy about romantic imbroglios during the midsummer holiday in Sweden. Part of the fame of “Smiles” was how different it was from the very serious tone of most of Bergman’s films.
Viewing the Lyric Theatre @ Illinois version of “A Little Night Music” on Oct. 25 was a strange experience for me. I know that the number “Send in the Clowns” was the big hit of the show, but I was not prepared for the enormous impact that Emma Mize as Desirée Armfeldt achieved when she sang that number, late in the show. Suddenly, the musical level of the show rose from the very good level to the magnificent! I was overwhelmed, and judging from the audience’s ovation, I was not alone.
I realize that comparing the great with the less-than-great can be unfair, and one can hardly regret that Sondheim wrote such a wonderful number, even if it towers over its surroundings in the show.
One of the outstanding performances of the night was Dawn Harris’ portrayal of the elderly Madame Armfeldt, a personage who represents the social peak of the characters in the play. Harris delivered memorably the number “Liasons,” in which she, from her Olympian perspective, looked down on the rather silly goings on in the tawdry love affairs of the younger people about her.
And I did find the dilemma of middle-aged Frederik Egerman, energetically played by Eldon Warner, a trifle lightweight. He has married an 18-year-old girl, Anne, who was played with appealing naiveté by Lauren Zimmerman. Eleven months have passed, and the marriage has not been consummated. This serio-comic situation turns into near farce when Frederik turns for relief to an old flame, the aging actress Desirée Armfeldt, and Frederik runs into conflict with Desirée’s lover, Carl-Magnus, played with bellicose bravado by Salvatore Castronovo.
While Frederik and Desirée solve one romantic dilemma, Frederik’s young son, Henrik, played with the seriousness suitable for a Lutheran seminarian by Liam Flynn, runs away with his father’s young wife, Anne, who is technically Hendrik’s stepmother. These somewhat intricate comic actions were well directed by Dawn Harris.
Charlotte, Carl-Magnus’ patient but resourceful wife, was well-played by Paige Calvert. Petra, the servant girl, was given a strong performance by Kathryn King, and her rendition of “The Miller’s Son” received very warm applause. The role of Fredrika Armfeldt, the teenage daughter of Frederik Egerman and Desirée Armfeldt, was played with quiet assurance by Catheryn Kuhar.
One of the better aspects of this production was the big production numbers, such as the first act finale, “A Weekend in the Country.” These numbers as well as the many waltzes were well choreographed by Rebecca Nettl-Fiol and Alex Tecza. The scenic design by Minghan Ma featured “three large walls with dance-like/organic curves” which were intended to contrast our inner selves with our social selves. The walls were brought on and removed with finesse.
I was puzzled by the activities of five singers, arrayed in fantasy costumes, who were said to act as a “Greek Chorus.” Unlike for the other characters, there were almost no supertitles for their singing. These roles were sung by Caitlin Towell, Maya Cornejo, Alejandra Sandoval, Martin Pizarro and Nathan Tilton.
A list of the musical numbers and a synopsis of the action might have made aspects of this production clearer. I later learned that the character of Madame Armfeldt was supposed to pass away “unnoticed” at the final curtain. If that was indicated in this production, I missed it in the otherwise grand finale.