Theater Review: Schenectady Light Opera’s A Little Night Music is superb

“‘Send In the Clowns’ is the most popular song Sondheim ever composed.”

So said critic Steve Cohen in 2014.

And maybe he’s right.

But there are so many dimensions of A Little Night Music to admire that you’ll leave SLOC’s third production of the musical (following 1978 and 1994) instructed, amused, moved and delighted.

First, the show itself, 50 this year. Thanks to Stephen Sondheim’s clever music and lyrics and a book by Wheeler, we’re surprised at every turn.

The melodies teeter on the edge of sprechgesang. Strike back. The pulse of most songs is three-quarter time, fin de siècle waltzes struggling to fit dresses and galoshes, awaiting their own dismemberment in Ravel’s La Valse. Times are changing.

The plot springs from Ingmar Bergman’s A Midsummer Night’s Smile, and Swedish nights are long. Three ironic smiles: of the young, of the foolish and of the old. Life is constantly winking and in this story the upper crusts get their romantic reward.

Be careful what you wish for is another way of saying it. Ask the elderly courtesan Madame Armfeldt (Pat Brady). Life becomes a hazy memory anyway as she narrates from her wheelchair throne in “Relationships.”

The Young: her granddaughter Frederica (Emma O’Kane); her servant Freed (Daniel Burns); 20-year-old Henrik Eggerman (Michael Burns) and his 18-year-old stepmother Anne (Ellia Winchester); and Petra (Jalissa Watson), Anne’s maid. All possibilities are before them.

But fewer options for the fools, the middle-aged: Desiree Armfeldt (Lindsey Dodd); her ex-lover, Fredrik Eggermann (Sean Olander-Hahn); her current love, Karl-Magnus Malcolm (James W. Alexander); and Malcolm’s wife, Charlotte (Elizabeth Corey). They cry, “Ou sont les neiges d’antan?”

Time passed, but the desire remained.

Sondheim and Wheeler brilliantly spin these characters through situations both humorous and sad, reaching a satisfying denouement.

SLOC’s staging of this Tony winner is beautifully crafted by director Brian Clemente, musical director Robert Soricelli, and stage manager JJ Paul. A delightful singing and dancing quintet (Stephanie St. Germain, Benjamin Hittrick, Brian Clemente, Christine Meglino, Elizabeth Sherwood-Mack) weaves in and out of the action, commentating like a Greek chorus. Amy Clark and Haley Van Alstyne’s choreography captures elegance and confusion. The specified changes are carried out efficiently.

Ashley & Spencer Lee’s production looks good. Period costumes and hair, by Cheryl Zatt and Elizabeth Sherwood-Mack, respectively, work. Clemente’s picturesque design has imaginative touches. If I wish the bed was firmer than it was on premiere night and the lighting was fine-tuned, I’m sure those concerns will be addressed as the series continues.

The cast: 15 and on location. Brady delivers bon mots so funny that you wish you could memorize them for your own purposes. Michael Burns’s Henrik believably despairs in Later and the subsequent scathing critique of adults.

Anne is a child bride, and Winchester reveals the teenage need to please, the bewilderment of her role, and finally the exuberance when she can be—well, a teenager.

Watson comes across a curious song towards the end of the show, “The Miller’s Son”. (Read Clemente’s insightful comments on this.) She conveys its meaning with superb singing and joyous movements.

As a middle-aged quartet—the characters in greatest emotional, sexual, and moral peril—Alexander, Corey, Khan, and Dodd are unequaled.

Alexander’s quickness, scowl and screaming tenor are the calling card of the ass. Scene-stealer Corey delivers Charlotte’s mix of pathos and venom with perfect timing, especially on “Every Day a Little Death.”

Olander-Hahn’s smooth baritone and acting are as assured as I’ve ever seen them. Fun song? A tender moment? Check and check.

And the iconic “Send in the Clowns”: On Friday, Dodd closed the house, then brought it down, not with a star turn, but with the heart of the character. Of course, Dodd had prepared us for this moment with every line read and gesture beforehand.

Indeed, bitter smiles on a winter’s night.

“A Little Night Music”

WHERE: Schenectady Light Opera Company, 427 Franklin St.
WHEN: until January 29
HOW MUCH: $32-$25
MORE INFO: 518.730.7370 or sloctheater.org

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Categories: Entertainment, Life & Arts, Schenectady

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