The Barrington Stage Company has consistently produced hight-quality, award-winning productions. A number of their shows have gone onto Broadway including the world premiere of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee by William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin; and in 2013 the theater produced Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green’s On the Town. Our CT Critics Circle member, Karen Isaac, traveled to Barrington to review their current production – the Stephen Sondheim musical A Little Night Music.
The music starts and the five ensemble singers enter individually, one strikes a note on the piano and they all begin to harmonize the overture of this enchanting production of A Little Night Music. Soon they begin to waltz and we into this show that emphasizes redemption and desire.
A Little Night Music has always been one of my favorite Stephen Sondheim musicals (Follies is another) and seeing the outstanding production at Barrington Stage, I realized how the two intertwine.
Each deals with unrequited love, misguided love, delusions, disappointments in life, regret and reconciliation. But while Follies says these will remain unrequired and misguided, A Little Night Music shows that mistakes can be corrected, eyes can see reality and reconciliation can occur. It may not be “happily ever after”, but it can be an adult version of it.
Director Julianne Boyd, who is ending her 28- year run as artistic director of the Stage, is going out with a terrific production and a top-notch cast.
A director can emphasize the mismatching, the regrets and cynicism, or the romance and the impetuousness of the heart. Boyd skillfully balances both, with a little more emphasis on the romance.
If you don’t remember the show, it is somewhat based on the Ingmar Bergman film Smiles of a Summer Night which itself used the idea from Arthur Schnitzler’s play La Ronde. In that play, one in each couple wants someone different. Here, Frederick Egerman has remarried a much younger woman (Anne) who is, after 11 months, still a virgin. His young adult son lives with them, studying at the seminary and hopelessly in love with Anne. Frederick’s old love is the actress Desiree Armfeldt who has a daughter, Frederica. Desiree is currently the mistress of a jealous military man, Carl-Magnus who she describes as a “tin soldier.” His wife, Charlotte, knows of his infidelities but still wants his attention. After getting to know the characters in act one, they all meet at Madame Armfeldt’s country home (she is Desiree’s mother and a former courtesan) on midsummer night.
Even if you don’t know the show, you undoubtedly know “Send in the Clowns” one of Sondheim’s most recorded numbers.
But a good director can only do so much if they don’t have the right cast.
Boyd clearly has cast this show exceptionally well, with a handful of Broadway veterans. It is a cast that rivals that of any Broadway show.
The central couple – Frederick and Desiree – are played by Jason Danielely and Emily Skinner. If Skinner isn’t a perfect Desiree, she is still excellent. Her interpretation, especially in “Send in the Clowns” emphasizes the irony of it all. It is a masterful rendition of the song (though I will still favor Judi Dench’s performance), which is also surprising. When Frederick and Carl-Magnus sing “It Would Have Been Wonderful,” a song in which they wish Desiree wasn’t so serenely confident and beautiful, you can see why from Skinner’s portrayal.
Danieley is a close-to-perfect Henrick. He is, as he says, a man who recognizes reality when his eyes are open, but he prefers to keep them shut. His performance subtly shows us that awareness and the conflict between what he knows is misguided and yet what he doesn’t want to give up. Combine that with his marvelous voice and leading-man good looks and you have a character you sympathize with and root for.
Adding to the joy of the production is the performance of Mary Beth Peil as Madame Armfeldt. She avoids the eccentricities of some others in the role, while making the most of the song “Liaisons.”
Sierra Boggess as Countess Charlotte Malcom coveys more self-loathing than usually found in this character’s portrayal. At first, it is off-putting, but you come to realize how right this interpretation is, particularly for today.
The rest of the cast – Sabina Collazo as Anne, Sophie Mings as Petra, cooper Grodin as Count Carl-Magnus and Noah Wolfe as Henrik are all fine. Perhaps Anne seems a little too like a 13-year-old and Count Magnus seems a little old, but those are minor points.
If I had one complaint, it was some of the costumes by Sara Jean Tosetti; they just didn’t seem elegant and expensive enough. The colors were a little bright (especially for Desiree in the second act) and the satin was a little too shiny. I might also complain about Desiree’s wig.
These are minor complaints that will not take away from the joy of this fine production. Congratulations to music director Darren R. Cohen, choreographer Robet La Fosse and director Boyd. It may not be totally ready for Broadway – but it is very close.
If you are lucky enough to be able to get a ticket before it closes on Sunday, Aug. 28, go see it. Visit BarringtonStageCo. org