Just about everybody, I suppose, knows “Send In The Clowns,” the break out hit from Stephen Sondheim’s chamber musical, “A Little Night Music.” But there is plenty more to enjoy in this gem from early in Sondheim’s career.
Notoriously difficult to sing (for the most part), and inspired by a gently melancholic film by Ingmar Bergman, ” A Little Night Music” has never achieved the popularity of the Sondheim hits, “Sweeney Todd,” and “Into The Woods.” But it’s charming nevertheless.
In its current manifestation at Spreckels Theatre Company, it is, perhaps, a bit too charming. But I get ahead of myself. Let me summarize the plot:
Fredrik Engerman is enamored with his very much younger virgin bride, Anne, but she is, to put it mildly, a bit shy in the bedroom. She’s kept him dangling for months. Meanwhile, his adolescent son Henrik is hopelessly in love with her as well, and, as a minister-in-training, he’s a bit ambivalent about the mess. When Fredrik takes Anne to see an old paramour of his on the stage (deliciously named Desiree), he winds up rekindling the old affair. He’s desperate, after all, and she can sympathize. Anne becomes jealous. And Desiree’s lover becomes jealous. And her lover’s wife becomes jealous. And all of these sex addled desperadoes convene for a weekend in the country at the estate of Desiree’s mother, Madame Armfeldt, a retired courtesan who has done very well for herself. The only innocent of them all is Desiree’s very young and, um, illegitimate daughter, Frederika. And Frederika, under the exuberantly corrupting influence of the worldly Madame Armfeldt, is not exactly a candidate for a nunnery.
The point is: “A Little Night Music,” for all it’s old fashioned charm, delicate musical intricacies, and over all air of melancholy, is also an old fashioned bedroom farce. It’s meant to be hilariously funny. When the hilarity is let loose to play against the delicate melancholy of the score and the night, “A Little Night Music” can be indescribably delicious.
In this production, however, although the musicality and the gentle melancholy are given their due, the raunch has been left outside in the barnyard. Director Sherri Lee Miller should have brought the horses indoors, figuratively speaking of course.
So, as comedy, this “Night Music” is a bit of a disappointment.
What remains, however is a wonderful score, performed with flair by a fine company of singers, all of whom are standouts. The supporting Quintet whose songs comment on the action, are admirable. Both Larry Williams as Fredrik and Brenna Sammon as Anne sing beautifully, but lack the desperation that would make their predicament funnier. Daniela Innocenti Beem as Desiree Armfeldt delivers a stellar version of “Send In The Clowns” that does not disappoint. Eileen Morris is touching as the senior Madame Armfeldt. As Desiree’s clownish lover, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, Michael Coury Murdock sings well. As his betrayed wife, Charlotte, Taylor Bartolucci fails to achieve the full comic potential of the part.
This is not a failed production, by any means, but it is lopsided. The music is lovely, and the atmosphere divine, but the potential mayhem has not been realized. It is a rather little version of “A Little Night Music,” but still appealing.
I can’t stop however, without mentioning child actress Molly Belle Hart as Fredrika Armfeldt. Perhaps because she is a child, and less easily seduced by melancholy, she does not hesitate to play every moment with the exuberant gusto that farce demands, and her fine work is a hint of what might have been, had the rest of the company caught her fire. She may be young, but she is already a seasoned pro and she’s going to have a distinguished career, as, no doubt, Madame Armfeldt would have surmised.
“A Little Night Music” runs through February 26, 2023 at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center. For information, click here.
Rating: **1.2 (For an explanation of Theatrestorm’s rating scale, click here.)
“A Little Night Music,” Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Hugh Wheeler. Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick. Suggested by a film by Ingmar Bergman. Director: Sheri Lee Miller. Music Direction: Janis Dunson Wilson. Vocal Coach: Mark Kratz. Stage Manager: Emily Cornelius. Set & Light Designer: Eddy Hansen. Sound Designer: Jessica Johnson. Projection Designer: Nick Lovato. Costume Designer: Donnie Frank. Prop Design: Elizabeth Bazzano. Build Crew: Christian Merkin, Caitlin Gurtner, Shawn Olney, Cecelia McDonough.
Madame Armfeldt: Eileen Morris. Desiree Armfeldt: Daniela Innocenti Beem. Fredrika Armfeldt: Molly Belle Hart. Anne Egerman: Brenna Sammon. Henrik Egerman: Samuel J. Gleason. Fredrik Egerman: Larry Williams. Countess Charlotte Malcolm: Taylor Bartolucci. Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm: Michael Coury Murdock. Petra: Kaela Mariano. Bertrand/Page: Chase Thompson. Malla./Osa: Savannah Steffen.
Liebeslieder (The Quintet):
Mr. Lindquist: Sean O’Brien. Mr. Erlanson: Michael Arbitter. Mrs. Nordstrom: Stacy Rutz. Mrs. Anderssen: Ariana Arbitter.
Flute,Piccolo: Marlene Eyre. Clarinet: Mary Kruzas. Clarinet/Bass Clarinet: Trevor Acebo. Oboe/English Horn/Bassoon: Danielle Mays. Horn: Randy Masselink. Harp: Laura Simpson. Violin: Lisa Doyle. Viola: Pam Otsuka. Cello: Carol Vines. Bass: Alan Parks. Keyboards: Janis Wilson. Percussion – bells, crotales, snare drums, xylophone, tympani, triangle: Beverly Dorcy.