Review: ‘A Little Night Music’ at Signature Theatre

If you are eager to get away from the turbulent news cycle, August humidity, annoying traffic, a mostly undone to-do list, disorder in your immediate circle, or fractures at a global or microscopic level, take a trip to Signature Theatre and put your worries on hold.

The cast of A Little Night Music. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

A Little Night Music, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler, is just the ticket to take you far away. In a lush setting, magically provided by a skillful team of creatives, you are swept away with the music, the repartee, the voices, the movement, the tiny gestures, and the bold picture or comedic timing of a second glance.

Signature Theatre’s 28th Stephen Sondheim production is packed with Director Eric Schaeffer’s years of experience and inspiration. Suggested by an Ingmar Bergman film, Smiles of a Summer Night, the setting for A Little Night Music is 1900 Sweden and the revolving romantic mismatch of three upper class couples. It opened on Broadway in 1973 and A Little Night Music carries the branding of those times too in the layers of romance, misalliance, and cynicism and back-and-forth.

Holly Twyford as Desiree Armfeldt and Florence Lacey as Madame Armfeldt. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Though the story revolves around the couples, I’m drawn to the sturdy portrayal of three generations of women – working in sync while straddling differences – in the characters of the doyenne matriarch Madame Leonora Armfeldt, played by Florence Lacey, the free-spirited actress and mother Desiree Armfeldt, played by Holly Twyford, and the insightful, briskly honest child Fredrika Armfeldt, played by Anna Grace Nowalk. Together, they are charming, singing mere phrases that are, at the same time, complete stories, in the song “The Glamorous Life.” Holly Twyford churns up the laughter in the drop dead center of things as the Liebeslieders – Kevin McAllister, Quynh-My Luu, Maria Egler, Bengamin Lurye, and Susan Derry – a clever chorus of five, weave through. Making up a satisfying and uniting thread, the Liebeslieders catch us unexpectedly with each appearance, creating great surprises along the way.

Nicki Elledge (Anne Egerman) and Bobby Smith (Fredrik Egerman). Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Another threesome, the Egermans, contains the misguided yet charismatic husband, Fredrik Egerman – played by Bobby Smith, his young wife, Anne – played by Nicki Elledge, and his youthful coming-of-age son, Henrik – played by Sam Ludwig. The three deliver the songs “Now,” “Later,” and “Soon,” layering inner dialogues about the same subject from three distinct settings: Fredrik reclining on the bed, Henrik on an isolated settee, and Anne at her dressing table.

A similarly multi-faceted converging of three different viewpoints comes with the song “A Weekend in the Country.” By now, we have met Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, played by Will Gartshore, who tickles up a laugh with his bravado, sings with rich clarity, and stomps through the space with great command. The Countess, played by Tracy Lynn Olivera, is full of wit and devoted to her husband, make no bones about it. Tracy Lynn Olivera gets us to see all those little nuances, using body language that speaks volumes with comedic timing and a few props to help along. the way.

Maria Rizzo, Kevin McAllister, Tracy Lynn Olivera, Nicki Elledge, Sam Ludwig, Holly Twyford, Will Gartshore, and Florence Lacey. Photo by Paul Tate DePoo III.

There’s plenty to look at here. The décor and location travels from a backstage dressing room, a well-appointed dining room, a country house with outdoor statuary, to the suggestion of outdoor greenery. The scenic design by Paul Tate Depoo III works hand-in-hand with the lighting by Colin K. Bills and transforms without any bulk, just swift moves that fly slim abstracts in and out to fire the imagination.

Maria Rizzo as Petra. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

The costumes by Robert Perdziola add even more with period perfect corsets, coats, and hats creating a substantial picture in the mind’s eye of an era, a familiarity with time past.

Speaking of swift moves, the servant girl / maid, Petra – played by Maria Rizzo – finds solid ground in various intrigues. She has moments of leaping into arms, tumbling over beds, and wrestling horse play with both male and female counterparts. She physically claims the song “The Miller’s Son” and the merge of body and voice sweeps away.

Sweep away the challenges of daily life and spend an evening at Signature Theatre, enjoying their boisterous and beautiful production of A Little Night Music.

 

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including one fifteen-minute intermission.

A Little Night Music plays through October 8, 2017 at Signature Theatre – 4200 Campbell Avenue, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call (703) 820-9771, or purchase them online.

NOTE:

A Little Night Music contains theatrical haze, depictions of cigarette smoking, gunshots, and partial nudity.

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