Wright State University closes its 2018-2019 mainstage season with an excellent production of composer Stephen Sondheim and librettist Hugh Wheeler’s sophisticated, biting, naughty, and witty 1973 Tony Award-winning musical romance A Little Night Music.
Skillfully directed by Greg Hellems who also provides elegant choreography, A Little Night Music, based on Ingmar Bergman’s 1955 film Smiles of a Summer Night, pinpoints the agitation, hopelessness, jealousy, and sexual frustration among the disenchanted upper class of 1900 Sweden. The primary love triangle concerns legendary actress Desiree Armfeldt (luminous Celia Arthur) who has feelings for her former lover Frederik Egerman (a successful lawyer portrayed with calm, cool and collected authority by Kenneth Erard) and present paramour Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (a self-absorbed dragoon portrayed by a remarkably pompous and dynamically focused Ross Bloedorn). The fact that both men are in complicated marriages doesn’t bother Desiree, but their devoted wives (lovely Rachel Glynn as virginal Anne and outstanding Isabella Andrews as vindictive Countess Charlotte) ultimately seek to settle the score. Peering on the outside looking in is Frederik’s melancholy son Henrik (believably tortured Aaron Roitman) who pines for Anne yet is often teased by his frisky maid Petra (playful Hailey Noll). Observing these connections are Madame Armfeldt (delightful Heather Cooperman), Desiree’s opinionated mother who reminds her precocious granddaughter Fredrika (beguiling and inquisitive Michaella Waickman), Desiree’s daughter, to keep watch for the night to smile three times; first on the young lovers, then on the fools, and lastly on the old.
In a stroke of genius, Sondheim musicalizes the material’s dicey entanglements as a series of waltzes, signifying the fluidity and unexpectedness which comes from falling in and out of love. After all, finding the right partner while pursuing or recognizing true love is imperative. Noteworthy standouts within his ravishing score include You Must Meet My Wife (casual small talk smoothly interpreted by Erard and Arthur as Frederik and Desiree’s underlying chemistry takes shape), Liaisons (a storytelling ode to bygone dalliances wistfully sung by Cooperman), therapeutic heart-to-heart Every Day a Little Death (fabulously led by Andrews opposite Glynn as Charlotte recounts Carl-Magnus’ antics with a complex mixture of disgusted agony and honest sincerity), phenomenal Act 1 finale A Weekend in the Country (one of the finest ensemble numbers in the musical theatre canon), The Miller’s Son (fiercely sung by Noll as Petra, fully intent to survive whatever life throws at her, shares perspectives on the various men of her dreams), and Send in the Clowns (gorgeously and purposefully sung by Arthur as Desiree ponders her relationship with Frederik and takes stock of the choices she has made).
The vocally strong cast, attractively costumed in striking period attire by Courtney Michele and superbly accompanied by musical director Steve Hinnenkamp’s nine-member orchestra, includes Jeremy Farley as Frid, Robin Dunavant as Mrs. Anderssen, Kayli Modell as Mrs. Nordstrom, Emma Buchanan as Mrs. Segstrom, David Emery as Mr. Erlanson, Jonathan Crawford as Mr. Lindquist, Molly Seybert as Malla, Justin Mathews as Bertrand, Savannah Slaby as Osa, and Bridget Lorenz as Swing. In particular, Dunavant, Modell, Buchanan, Emery, and Crawford are wonderful Liebeslieders, an operatic Greek Chorus offering beautiful, insightful commentary in such songs as Remember?, The Sun Won’t Set and Perpetual Anticipation.
Hellems’ expert artistic team includes set designer Pam Lavarnway, lighting designers Matthew Benjamin and Emily Hope, sound designer James Dunlap, voice and speech coach Deborah Thomas, and the late Scot Woolley, who served as musical director at the time of his death Jan. 26 and will be dearly missed.
In terms of entertainment, A Little Night Music typically runs the risk of being too blasé, rigid or stuffy, but Hellems, who has handled his share of musical comedy over the years, finds sufficient room for humor amid the angst. And in doing so, this production becomes the perfect marriage of story and song it was written to be.
A Little Night Music, dedicated in memory of Scot Woolley, continues through April 7 in the Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center of Wright State University, 3640 Col. Glenn Hwy., Dayton. Act One: 95 minutes; Act Two: 60 minutes. Performances are March 30, April 5 and 6 at 8 p.m., March 30, 31, April 6 and 7 at 2 p.m., and April 4 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5-$25. For tickets or more information, call (937) 775-2500 or visit wright.edu/theatre-tickets. Patrons are advised the show contains adult themes.