‘A Little Night Music’
Though Oct. 8
4200 Campbell Avenue
With its production of “A Little Night Music,” Signature Theatre once again does what it does so well — revive Sondheim musicals. Filled with humor, poignant, gorgeous to hear and see, this version of the 1973 Broadway favorite, scintillatingly staged by the company’s artistic director Eric Schaeffer, is a hard-to-top season opener.
A favorite among musical theater fans with its extraordinary music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim — done here by a terrific cast of mostly local faces accompanied by a sparkling orchestra led by Jon Kalbfleisch — “Night Music” includes many memorable tunes like the frequently recorded “Send in the Clowns,” “The Miller’s Son,” “Every Day a Little Death” and more. The score shows off the out composer’s genius facility with rhyming and lyrics. In “Liaisons” a former courtesan succinctly sums up her successful career: “At the palace of the Duke of Ferrara, I acquired some position, Plus a tiny Titian.”
Inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s 1955 film “Smiles of a Summer Night,” librettist Hugh Wheeler’s book takes place in Sweden circa 1900. The action centers around a group of some well-to-do but unfulfilled folks. Middle-aged stage star Desiree Armfeldt (played with earthy sophistication by Holly Twyford) is bored with her lover Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (hilariously assayed by out actor Will Gartshore), a hot-headed dragoon who’s married to the endlessly unhappy Charlotte (the delightfully wry Tracy Lynn Olivera). The silly Count’s love for Desiree is based more on pride than love.
When Desiree runs into former flame Fredrik Egerman (out actor Bobby Smith), a successful lawyer involved in a sexless marriage to the much younger Anne (Nicki Elledge), things begin to heat up. Fredrik’s sexually frustrated son Henrik (Sam Ludwig) unsuccessfully trysts with lusty housemaid Petra (Maria Rizzo) while holding a true torch for his young stepmother. It’s an engaging farce elevated by Sondheim’s soaring score and acted by seasoned pros.
“Night Music” marks veteran out actor Twyford’s musical debut. Not sure why she waited so long. She holds her own in a cast filled with some of D.C.’s best voices and her heartfelt interpretation of “Send in the Clowns” is revelatory. Also, she looks every bit the alluring Desiree costumed in stunning period attire, particularly a second act waspwaisted red gown, all designed by the talented Robert Perdziola. Twyford sparks magically with co-star Smith; their chemistry is apparent throughout.
The reliably good Florence Lacey plays Desiree’s queenly mother Madame Leonora Armfeldt, a retired courtesan with a penchant for old stories and good Champagne. She’s assembled a sizeable fortune from a string of powerful lovers. And while Desiree tours the provinces, Madame Armfeldt keeps an eye on her granddaughter Fredrika (Anna Grace Nowalk) sharing her comfortable villa and what she considers essential nuggets of wisdom with the girl.
Paul Tate dePoo III’s set suggests a ballroom with its expansive shiny parquet flooring and lit sconces. The space is backed by different sized hanging fragments of picture frame mouldings that serve as interior walls for a drawing room, backstage dressing room wall, or a forest of trees in the countryside. Colin K. Bills’ lighting adds romance and mood to the enchanting design.
Shaeffer’s direction brings out the show’s formidable music and fun book in equal parts. He’s plumbed the work for bits of farce and tenderness that are often overlooked. And with his careful selection of cast and design team, his is a revival that shouldn’t be missed.