Sunday, October 17, 2010

Review: "A Little Night Music"

Stephen Soundheim is one of the geniuses of American musical theater, and few of his shows are more sublime or enjoyable than A Little Night Music. Originally produced in 1973, there is now a wonderful revival on Broadway starring Elaine Stritch and Bernadette Peters. It's not the hottest ticket in town at the moment but, in terms of quality, it's probably the best.

Set in Sweden in 1900, A Little Night Music is based on Ingmar Bergman's movie Smiles of a Summer Night where men and women of various ages and class backgrounds swap lovers and hearts set to gorgeous music. A wealthy, widowed lawyer named Fredrik lives with his innocent second wife Anne and his horny son Henrik who is just coming of age. Henrik lusts after his stepmother who fancies him too but is trying to make her new marriage to Fredrik work. In the meantime, Henrik occupies himself with his father's beautiful housemaid Petra who teases and tempts him mercilessly. Meanwhile Fredrik is looking for love elsewhere and reconnects with an old loved named Desiree who is a great and famous actress. Desiree, however, is not without her baggage: besides having an elderly mother who disapproves of her lifestyle, and a daughter she loves that she's trying to raise right, she also has another lover named Count Malcolm -- who also has a jealous wife. This romantic octagon comes to a head during a weekend in the country at Desiree's house where the tangle of love and hearts is straighted out and love conquers all.

This is an amazing show. The sets, costumes, and staging are perfect. The dancing and singing are, as you might imagine, incredible. But what struck me most of all were the performances. They are so strong, so moving, there is such richness and texture to each and every actor that you find yourself rooting for each character -- even when they are rooting against one another. Elaine Stritch plays Desiree's mother and her performance shows a women wise beyond her many years -- a woman whose many lovers and disappointments in life have given her a sad wisdom. Bernadette Peters is amazing as Desiree and her rendition of "Send in the Clowns" (the show's most famous song) is incredible. Indeed, as many have noted, watching this legend of the theater sing this legendary song is the kind of thing you live for when you go to musicals. And I'm just so glad to have seen it.

Yet as good as the two marquee performances are, the show has an amazing supporting cast. As Fredrik, Stephen Buntrock crafts a dimensional, complex man who you can't help rooting for even when he's behaving very badly. His amazing voice and charming performance gives him such charisma that you can understand why Desiree would be tempted to spurn her scary lover and go back to him. Also impressive is Bradley Dean as Count Malcolm, the aforementioned lover who manages to be both terrifying and hilarious at the same time. (He has the best line in the whole show: when he decides to end it with Desiree and go back to his wife, he tells her, "Darling ... I forgive you"). But the real show stealer is Leigh Ann Larkin as Petra, the horny housemaid, who manages to be both erotic, funny, and mysterious all at once. Towards the end of the show, she sings "The Miller's Son" and does it with such emotional power you almost wish the entire show had been about her. This is an actress I think will be on Broadway for years and decade to come.

It's rare that such a great show with such a perfect cast comes to Broadway. If you can go see it and see a piece of musical theater history, do it! You won't be disappointed.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please keep it civil, intelligent, and expletive-free. Otherwise, opine away.