A Little Night Music | Stages St. Louis

th_nightmusicWhile the actors did a fine job in giving the dialogue of the play its due, Sondheim's waltzes are really what help give this musical its shine.

 

 

 

 

Book by Hugh Wheeler
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Direction & Musical Staging by Michael Hamilton
Through July 1, 2007

Stages St. Louis kicked off their 21st season with Stephen Sondheim's Tony Award-winning operetta, A Little Night Music. The musical, based on the Ingmar Bergman film Smiles for a Summer Night, focuses on a several relationships all in different stages of transition. Fredrik Egerman (Christopher Guilmet) is dealing with his nubile wife, Anne (Pamela Brumley), and her lack of intimacy; Countess Charlotte Malcolm (Corinne Melançon) and her husband, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Mike McGowan), are dealing with the Count's adulterous disposition; Frederik's flame of long ago, Desiree Armfeldt (Kari Ely), returns to town which reignites the flames between her and Fredrik; and Henrik Egerman (Brian Ogilvie) is dealing with lustful feelings toward his new mother, Anne. The lines of each relationship get blurred as the right people in the wrong relationships try to sort out their twisted emotions.

Rounding out the cast of characters are Desiree's aging mother, Madame Armfeldt (Zoë Vonder Haar), Desiree's daughter, Fredrika (Alexis L. Kinney), and Petra, (Julie Foldesi), the Egermans' maid whose high libido gives the plot a very sexy kick. Additionally, a group of five singers—two men and three women—appears from time to time to serve as guides through the complex plot.

Overall, the production is a joy to watch. Stunning costumes, a gorgeous set, and top-notch performances combine to kick off Stages St. Louis' season with a bang. While the actors did a fine job in giving the dialogue of the play its due, Sondheim's waltzes are really what help give this musical its shine. I found it interesting how the songs actually told more of the story rather than what the actors were saying to one another. For example, the trio of songs, "Now," "Later," and "Soon" helped paint the picture of where Frederik, Anne, and Henrik's stood emotionally, while such songs as "Remember" and "You Must Meet My Wife" helped give the story some texture and spice. It was interesting to see how well the crowd received these songs, especially as opposed to the legendary "Send in the Clowns." Despite Ely's talented vocals on that number, the rest of the numbers appeared more genuine and heartfelt.

In a nutshell, the performances were sensational. Having come to expect top-notch performances from Stages St. Louis, I should have not been surprised to see not one but three (!) actors with Broadway experience. Both Melançon and McGowan have cut their teeth on the Broadway stage (Mamma Mia, Kiss Me Kate and The Apple Tree, The Producers, respectively), and Foldesi served as a standby for Little Women. The time they spent on Broadway served them well, as each of these performers gave some of the St. Louis actors a run for their money. Not to worry, St. Louis represented itself with the brilliant performances I have come to expect. Ely was sensational in her role as Desiree and Vonder Haar had her matriarchal role on lock. The performance highlight of the evening came when McGowan and Guilmet worked as a comedic team. Both actors worked well with one another, delivering some of the best punch lines of the evening. Both actors should be commended for a job well done.

I could not find one flaw in James Wolk's set design. Brilliantly designed, Wolk's streamlined set was enjoyable to watch as it made its smooth transitions. Additionally, Dorothy Marshall Englis created some fabulous costume creations that impressed me as much as Lou Bird's "Meet Me in St. Louis" costumes (as seen in Stages St. Louis' last season) did. The costumes in this production managed to be eye-catching without garish; vibrant without over the top.

My only negative critique of the production fell to the pacing. Act One is a long, steady climb, making sure the audience is on board with who wants who and how all of the characters fall in line with one another. Act Two is where all the action happens, as relationships twist and turn with a quickness; the lion's share of comedic zingers also occur in the second act. Additionally, the sub-plot of Henrik's love for his stepmother really wasn't explored in depth in the first act, so when he professed his love in the second act, I was surprised. Despite this arguable flaw, Michael Hamilton has proved once again that he is a director to be reckoned with, as he took on this challenging production and gave it a breath of fresh air.

Once again, Stages St. Louis starts the summer theater season on a high note with its stunning production of A Little Night Music. Full of terrific vocal performances and sensational technical aspects, this production has something for everyone. I know it may be early, but I think I can smell a few Kevin Kline nominations coming out of this production. Filling out the rest of their season with Snoopy (June 20 – July 1), The Full Monty (July 20 – Aug. 19), and Crazy for You (Sept. 7 – Oct. 7), Stages St. Louis has once again set the stage for another fantastic season. | Jim Campbell

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