Updated: Mar 20, 2019
A Little Night Music, lyrics and music by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler, is running from January 13-29 at Las Vegas Little Theatre (LVLT), 3920 Schiff Drive. The original Broadway production opened in 1973 and won five Tony Awards (including Best Musical), eight Drama Desk Awards, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical, and the Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album.
Set in nineteenth-century Sweden, "Night Music" has an operatic tone, and explores the tangled web of romances centered around actress, Desirée Armfeldt, and the men who love her: a lawyer by the name of Fredrik Egerman and the Count Carl-Magnus Malcom. When the traveling actress performs in Fredrik's town, the estranged lovers' passion rekindles. This strikes a flurry of jealousy and suspicion between Desirée; Fredrik; Fredrick's wife, Anne; Desirée's current lover, the Count; and the Count's wife, Charlotte. Both men – as well as their jealous wives – agree to join Desirée and her family for a weekend in the country at Desirée's mother's estate. With everyone in one place, infinite possibilities of new romances and second chances bring unending surprises.
The show is full of hilariously witty and heartbreakingly moving moments of adoration, regret and desire. Its harmonically advanced score and masterful orchestrations include Sondheim's popular song, the haunting "Send in the Clowns," one of the most frequently recorded songs of all time. But its composer, who says he wrote it in two days, has pointed out the difference between the way it’s sung on records, which tends to take advantage of its pretty melody, and the way it’s sung in the show, where it comes at a moment of tremendous pain.
To appreciate Sondheim, you absolutely have to have an appreciation for language and you can detect the superior craftsmanship and care when you examine his lyrics. This is where the chorus and many of the principal actors fall short. Even with microphones, they seem to sing “sotto voce” and articulate poorly -- although musical director, Toby McEvoy, keeps the orchestra at the perfect level of elegance and enchantment for both the venue and the singers. This is especially disappointing regarding “The Quintet” of Lieder Singers -- an innovation Sondheim introduced in this musical to open the show and reappear throughout, acting as a Greek chorus to provide the audience with essential contextual details.
Happily, three of the principals are more than up to the challenge! Barbara Costa (Madame Armfeldt) sings “Liaisons” using the Parlando style (as Rex Harrison did for his role in My Fair Lady). Ms. Costa is simply charming as a veteran of discreet and lucrative horizontal encounters with the crowned heads of Europe. Melissa Riesler (Desirée Armfeldt) is a touring actress who can and does have any man she wants. Ms. Riesler is unquestionably at ease onstage, whether leading “the glamorous life” or vocalizing her tremendous pain as she reflects on the ironies and disappointments of her life in her touching rendition of “Send In The Clowns”. London Mace (Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm), Desirée's lover, is strong-voiced and a splendidly proportioned but ferociously jealous dragoon. In addition, April Sauline gives a strong, comic performance as the lusty, earthy, and just plain sexy, Petra, the maid who’s never met a lover she didn’t like.
The director, Walter Niejadlik, and his production team commendably construct a stylish sense of nineteenth-century Sweden that is, indeed, “Soft on the ears, easy on the eyes, and pleasant on the mind”. The choreography of Lysander Abadia is fittingly courtly and sophisticated. Costumer, Rose Scarborough, and wig stylist, Skip Carvotta, credibly recreate the look and panache of the early 20th century. Ron Lindblom (set designer), Ginny Adams (lighting designer), and Sandy Stein (sound designer) aptly convey a past remembered, fondly and regretfully.
LVLT is to be commended on sharing such an intricate and delicate musical with local audiences. Mr. Sondheim, who will turn 87 this March, is the winner of a Pulitzer Prize (in 1985, for “Sunday in the Park With George”) and eight Tony Awards (including one for lifetime achievement) -- more than any other composer. His career stretches back to the 1950s with West Side Story, Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods, and more than twenty more musicals. Sixty years on Broadway and he's still considered to be musical theater’s greatest living artist!