‘A Little Night Music’ is a sexy, sensual delight
BOSTON –The 1973 musical “A Little Night Music” is not only the sexiest, most sensual play acclaimed composer Stephen Sondheim has involved himself in, it also boasts probably his most lush and romantic score.
That score includes, of course, “Send in the Clowns,” probably Sondheim’s signature song, if indeed a composer of his talents has just one song of that type.
The Huntington Theatre Company and Artistic Director Peter DuBois have crafted a lovely, painstakingly detailed and altogether charming production of “A Little Night Music” at the BU Theatre through Oct. 11.
The events – reunited lovers, relationships that intersect, overlap and sometimes wrecked — take place on a weekend in the country during a Swedish summer at the turn of the 19th Century.
“A Little Night Music” benefits greatly from the book by Hugh Wheeler, suggested by the film “Smiles of a Summer Night” by Ingmar Bergman, which captures the humor and heartbreak of relationships between mismatched lovers.
Middle-aged lawyer Fredrik Egerman has been waiting patiently – perhaps too patiently – for 11 months to consummate his marriage with his 18-year-old wife Anne (Morgan Kirner), who remains a virgin and still thinks of Fredrik mainly as a kindly uncle instead of her husband.
She enjoys teasing her stepson Henrik (Pablo Torres), a serious seminary student who is actually a year older than her.
Fredrik surprises her with tickets to the theater, starring the glamorous and famous – if fading – actress Desirée Armfeldt (Haydn Gwynne). She has had a long succession of lovers, among them Fredrik, and his interest in her is rekindled by the night in the theater, albeit a brief one as Anne storms out after seeing his eyes light up at Desiree’s appearance.
Desiree, meanwhile, has taken up with Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Mike McGowan), a military man with a inflated ego and a deflated brain, who insists in rubbing his affair in the face of his long-suffering wife Charlotte (Lauren Molina, in a standout performance), whose withering comments on her husband and her situation are a comic highlight.
Bobbie Steinback is another standout as the wizened Madame Armfeldt, a keen observer of the human condition who explains to her granddaughter Fredrika (Lauren Weintraub) the three types of smiles that are to be found upon a summer night on human beings. The first smile, she says, is for the very young, like Fredrika, who know nothing. The second is for fools like her mother, Desirée, who know too little. And the type of smiles for the very old, like Madame Armfeldt herself, who know too much.
Ultimately, during the second act, summer will indeed smile on three pairs of lovers.
McCaela Donovan also shines as the fiery maid Petra, and Sondheim delivers the character a valentine in the form of the plaintive second-act ballad “The Miller’s Son.”
Huntington doesn’t do all that many musicals, but when it does, there’s no skimping on the orchestra, and that’s especially important with this score. The lush orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, Sondheim’s collaborator, are given life through Jonathan Mastro’s musical direction and the 12-piece orchestra conducted by Eric Stern, which gives full body to the nuances of the score Sondheim wrote almost entirely in three-quarter waltz time.
Huntington Artistic Director Peter DuBois takes a back seat to no one – OK, maybe Lyric Stage’s Spiro Veloudos – when it comes to being a Sondheimophile, and while assembling and directing a fine cast, he has also maintained the Huntington’s traditionally impeccable production values, including Derek McLane’s towering birches at the country home of Madame Armfeldt, Jeff Croiter’s lighting that suggests the seemingly endless summer Scandinavian night, and Daniel Pelzig’s choreography, lively without overstepping the boundaries of the characters.
The production also boasts a plethora of vocal highlights, production numbers such as “The Glamorous Life,” “Remember,” the gorgeous Act I finale “A Weekend in the Country,” and Gwynne as Desirée delivering a haunting “Send in the Clowns” filled with regret.
Shows can speak to a theater patron — or reviewers, for that matter – in different ways at different times of their lives, as they age and find they identify with a certain character. Forty years after I first saw it, my life experience has changed the way I feel about this show.
Alas, the calendar has decreed there shall be no more long summer nights for us to savor for many months, so we shall have to content ourselves with being part of an unforgettable weekend in Sweden, created by Sondheim, Wheeler, DuBois and a sterling cast.
The Huntington Theatre Company production of “A Little Night Music.” Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Original orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick. Book by Hugh Wheeler, suggested by the Ingmar Bergman film “Smiles of a Summer Night.” Directed by Peter DuBois. Set design by Derek McLane.Costuime design by Robert Morgan . Lighting design Jeff Croiter. Sound design by Jon Weston. At The BU Theatre through Oct. 11. Huntingtontheatre.org.