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This article by Joan Crespi was prepared for the May 15, 2002

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Review: `A Little Night Music’

Stephen Sondheim’s sophisticated, classy

musical-cum-operetta,

"A Little Night Music," has an inventive score, staccato,

rhyming lyrics, and a second act that takes place under a large and

magical full moon. In a nod to its source (and a musical in-joke),

Sondheim, who wrote the words and lyrics, slips in a few bars of

Mozart’s

beloved "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik."

"A Little Night Music" is now playing at Bristol Riverside

Theater, through May 26. The polished, fast-paced production, with

strong, excellent singing, graceful dancing, and a 10-piece orchestra,

is directed by Susan D. Atkinson, the theater’s founding producing

director. Artistic director Edward Keith Baker plays the male lead,

Fredrik Egerman.

In its 1973 Broadway production, produced and directed by the renowned

Harold Prince, the show garnered five Tony Awards including Best

Musical,

Best Music and Lyrics, and best book. The book, by Hugh Wheeler, was

adapted from from the Ingmar Bergman film "Smiles of a Summer

Night." It’s a compound mixture of love, frustration, sex, a

mistress,

an unattached man, tattling, infidelity, jealousy (however viewed).

In short, it’s a stylish powder keg.

The show takes place in turn-of-the-century Sweden (19th to 20th

century).

Many call this "The Waltz Musical." Sondheim says "I put

everything in some form of triple time so that the whole score would

feel vaguely like a long waltz with scherzi in between." At the

end of the show, the main characters in this large cast waltz around

the stage in gorgeous, flowing dresses and elegant tuxedos.

The vocal quintet that opens the show with "La, la, la," and

"Pack the suitcases, I lead a glamorous life" (their words

not always understandable), reappears throughout, singly and in

unison,

functioning like a Greek chorus.

The story begins with the middle-aged lawyer Fredrik Egerman (Edward

Keith Baker) and his second wife, a pink-clad, blonde, shallow,

flirtatious,

pretty bride, Anne (Lynette Knapp), who has refused sex with him for

11 months. She’s 18 and frightened. But she promises, "Soon."

Fredrik’s enforced celibacy galls. His old flame Desiree Armfeldt,

a glamorous middle-aged actress (Joy Franz), recognizes him during

a theater scene, and Anne flees. Living in the same house with Fredrik

and Anne is his gloomy son from his first marriage, Henrik (John

Moletress),

a conflicted seminary student only a year older than Anne. He is

wildly

in love with her, even as he seduces and is seduced by the lascivious

maid (Becca Ayers).

Fredrik praises his young wife to Desiree, his old flame. Still, she

agrees to a sexual fling: "What are old friends for?" Desiree

is also having an affair with the married Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm

(Richard White) who bursts in on the tryst. The next morning the

count,

an arrogant, loud military man, a dragoon, relates the episode to

his pliable wife, Charlotte, who relates the incident to Anne.

Meanwhile, Desiree invites the Egermans to a weekend at her mother’s

country estate. Anne accepts to show up Desiree with her youthfulness.

Learning of the invitation and determined not to lose his mistress,

the jealous count, a man of the world who knows how the world works,

resolves he and Charlotte will go too, uninvited.

The estate is owned by Madame Armfeldt (Hazel Bowers),

a warm, wise, and winning grandmother who has made a career of

consorting

with potentates and is left with this country house from the King

of Belgium. Here she raises her grandchild, Desiree’s illegitimate

daughter Fredrika (Jordan Price), a wise and frisky little girl of

13 who seems to be everywhere at once and who knows a great deal.

The show has its funny, even farcical moments, as the count, his pants

down, waddles off stage in Act I; in Act II, two antique motor cars

meet and both men, cranking their cars, bump derrieres. Or when the

characters supposedly hide from each other behind a movable trellis

and a servant announces dinner to the characters by name, or even

when the count persuades Fredrik to play Russian roulette and Fredrik,

mistaken for dead, ineptly only grazes his ear. It’s clever as well

when the count bursts in on Fredrik (wearing the count’s robe) and

Desiree and they talk their way out of the compromising situation

The melodious semi-classical score contains Sondheim’s grim yet witty

reminder sung by Charlotte in Act I, "Every Day a Little

Death,"

just to jolt us all with our mortality. "A Little Night Music"

also has Sondheim’s most popular song, "Send in the Clowns,"

something of an ode to happiness.

All the acting here is excellent, the singing strong, voices clear.

Lisa L. Zinni’s costumes are lovely, clothing the women in colorful

taffetas, the tall count in a dazzling white military uniform. Don

Morrison’s sets are evocative, versatile, Robert Mond’s lighting

enhances

mood.

Don’t think of this as your usual rousing, bumptious musical: this

is Sondheim, intellectually provocative, morally unsettling. Sondheim

musicals define an era. "A Little Night Music" is the last

of six Sondheim musicals being revived now at the Kennedy Center in

Washington in the most extensive presentation ever of the work of

a single artist. With "Sweeney Todd" running in Washington,

Sondheim’s (and James Lapine’s) "Into the Woods" on Broadway,

here’s Bristol Riverside Theater playing "A Little Night

Music."

— Joan Crespi

A Little Night Music, Bristol Riverside Theater,

120 Radcliffe Street, Bristol, 215-785-0100. $32 to $39. Show runs

to Sunday, May 26.


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