There is an abundance of superb performances and charm aplenty in Stephen Sondheim’s gem of a musical, “A Little Night Music,” which opened Friday, Jan. 25 at the Indiana Repertory Theatre in downtown Indianapolis.
One of IRT’s rare musical productions — directed and choreographed by George Pinney, professor and head of musical theater at IU’s Theatre and Drama Department — this work featured a splendid ensemble of performers, including renowned Grammy Award–winning vocalist Sylvia McNair.
“A Little Night Music” is a romantic comedy, with music and lyrics by Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler. The musical that premiered on Broadway in 1973 is based on Ingmar Bergman’s 1955 film, “Smiles of a Summer Night."
Set at the turn of the century in Sweden, the story centers on glamorous actress Desiree Armfeldt (McNair), who men find irresistible, and the problems that ensue when two of her lovers and their wives come to join her for a weekend at her mother’s country estate.
This production lasted nearly three hours, with one intermission, but thanks to Pinney’s astutely efficient direction it moved at a rapid pace with barely a lull.
McNair is the most recognizable name on the cast roster, but it remained to be seen whether she, who is more well known as a singer (even though her opera roles require acting skills), could successfully play what was primarily a speaking role.
Though lacking strength and dimension in her overall portrayal of Desiree — a glamorous seductress, scheming to win a husband and father for her illegitimate daughter — McNair did perform a powerfully moving and deeply affective rendition of “Send in the Clowns,” the musical’s signature song.
James Rank, on the other hand, gave a fine and fully-realized performance as Desiree’s ineffectual former lover, Fredrik Egerman, a middle-aged lawyer who has married a young girl who refuses to give up her virginity to him. Equally impressive was Rank’s vocal performance.
Grace Morgan was also outstanding, both as an actor and singer, as she played the coquettish Anne, Fredrik’s conceited and immature 18-year-old wife who is clueless that his son, Henrik, is in love with her.
Nicholas Fitzer played Henrik, the angst-ridden seminary student, to perfection. Yearning to be taken seriously, Fitzer, as the frustrated Henrik, revealed a magnificent tenor voice as he sang “Later” and mimed playing his character’s cello.
A stellar performance was also given by Fontaine Syer as the aging Madame Armfeldt, Desiree’s stern and disapproving mother who once had her own share of indiscretions, which she poignantly recounts in “Liasons.”
Other members of the seasoned ensemble were Glenn Seven Allen (who recovered nicely after nearly tripping on a set piece) as Desiree’s other lover, the arrogant and caddish Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm; Jacquelynne Fontaine as Countess Charlotte Malcolm, his loyal, long-suffering wife; and young Maggie Williams as Desiree’s wise-beyond-her-years daughter, Fredrika.
Accompanying the performers as they skillfully and artfully sang Sondheim’s often bittersweet and complex score — written in ¾ waltz time — was a seven-piece orchestra led by Ray Fellman, who also played piano. Positioned underneath the floor of the set, the musicians marvelously interpreted the score’s exquisite orchestrations, despite the fact that their sound was considerably muffled due to their location.
Scenic Designer Russell Metheny’s minimal set, which suggested a forest of birch trees and implied various other story locations, effectively served to keep the audience’s focus on the performers, who were dressed in Linda Pisano’s sumptuous “Downton Abbey” (first season)–like costumes.
Do you wish to become a regular reader of this column? Receive e-mail alerts when new articles are available. Just click on the “Subscribe” button above. Also, "Like" Tom Alvarez on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.