by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
The third production of the Official Musical Theatre of the State of Georgia has opened on stage at the campus of Valdosta State University. “A Little Night Music”, produced by the Peach State Summer Musical Theatre, continues with performances on June 26, 28, 30 and July 3, 6, 11, and 13. The performance on June 30 is a matinee, the others are evening performances.
“A Little Night Music” was adapted as a musical by Hugh Wheeler from the Ingmar Bergman’s 1955 comedic film “Smiles of a Summer Night”. It opened on Broadway in 1973, and won a Tony for Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Original Score.
“Night Music” is unlike any musical you may have seen. The story uses a comical look at sex to reveal the illusions and disillusions of love, and explores infidelity through the intersecting triangular relationships of the characters.
The musical usually runs for three hours, but with the marvelous creativity of Scenic Designer Ruth Brandvik, it is fast paced and much shorter. The design uses sliding flats to depict a massive stone fence topped with ivy. The flats open and close and various indoor and outdoor scenes are created with each opening. The aristocratic culture of Sweden in the 1900s is conveyed through Costumer Esther Iverson’s choice of clothing, which has opulent elegance and is exquisite and detailed.
The musical opens with a group five of stylishly dressed singers who act as a Greek chorus of narrators. The fabulous five are played by Adam Woodruff, Caroline Hatchett, Madeline Glenn Thomas, Ethan Ray Parker and Rebecca Morris; all have exceptional voices.
The story revolves around Fredrik Egerman (Michael Elliott), a delightfully sophisticated and slightly foolish bon vivant and his simpering teenage bride, Anne (Rachel Day), who after eleven months of marriage is still a virgin. Fredrik once had an affair with famous actress Desirée (Barbara Dare Thomas) and now, unfulfilled in his current marriage, visits her hoping to renew their previous romantic liaison.
Things are complicated as Desirée has been having an affair with the Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Jim Sorensen), a blustering pompous simpleton who doesn’t bother to conceal his infidelities from his wife. The lovely Countess Charlotte Malcolm (Amy Fritsche) reveals the pain of being a neglected wife under all that glitter.
The romantic complications continue with Fredrik’s young son Henrik (Sean Patrick), a seminary student who is enamored with his father’s young frivolous wife. Things do get resolved, but we don’t want to be spoilers here, so we’ll leave the remainder of the plot for you to discover.
Throughout, there is the music by composer Stephen Sondheim, winner of eight Tony awards. The songs are mainly in waltz time. They have the usual Sondheim trademarks, wit, rhythm and melody, and what are also frequently Sondheim surprises, like little twists in the melodic line, sudden wry modulations and intentional wrong notes! We guess that is why many love Sondheim’s music. His musicals require excellent and very talented and versatile vocalists and this show has them.
We liked the maid Petra (Sandia Ahlers) and her rendition of “The Miller’s Son”. Two other songs were definitely audience favorites: “You Must Meet My Wife”, and “A Weekend in the County”.
The song for which this musical is most noted and one that is frequently chosen by vocalists is the haunting “Send in the Clowns”. This song almost did not make it into the show. Sondheim wrote it especially for the voice of Glynis Johns, who played Desirée in the original production; it doesn’t require sustained notes. With “Clowns”, Barbara Dare Thomas sang with a wonderfully fragile power; the song was as brilliant as a refrigerated diamond.
One of the more interesting characters who did not sing a note was Joanne Griner as the mother of Desirée, Madame Armfeldt. She spent her time in a wheel chair disseminating words of wisdom to her granddaughter Fredika (Jennifer Maurer). This character usually sings “Liaisons” but the delightful Ms. Griner spoke them with a voice encrusted with age. We learned that she recently celebrated her 80th birthday, and has been a long-time leading lady with Theatre Guild Valdosta. She kept us in stitches with her wit. We especially liked “To lose a lover, or even a husband or two, in the course of one’s life can be vexing but to lose one’s teeth is a catastrophe.”
This production has the professional expertise of a husband and wife team, with Randy Wheeler as Director and Jacque Wheeler as Choreographer. Kudos to the Musical Director Matthew C. Mainella and his orchestra for the fine handling of a very difficult score.
A Little Night Music” is musical theatre showmanship at its best; don’t miss it. Check out Peach State Summer Theatre on Facebook or valdosta.edu/psst for a complete schedule of shows and photos. The Box Office phone number is (229) 259-7770.
A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM