Among the countless of composers and lyricists in musical theatre, there will never be one that holds my heart more than Stephen Sondheim. He will forever be my absolute favorite which is why I make it my mission to always try to attend production in the Twin Cities that have his name involved. Despite knowing his entire produced works and streaming their soundtracks countless of times on Spotify, I had never actually seen a production of A Little Night Music which is why I immediately rushed to Theater Latté Da as soon as I could to view this romantic comedy.
A Little Night Music takes place in 1900 and takes a deeper look at ridiculously absurd love can truly be when their are too many people involved. The tangled mess of affairs are all centered around an actress by the name of Desirée Armfeldt. While the traveling performer finds herself in the hometown of her former lover, Fredrik Egerman, their love rekindles. Unfortunately Fredrik is married and his now much younger wife, Anne, becomes jealous along with suspicious of their former fling. The web continues when it is revealed that Desirée’s current lover, the Count Carl-Magnus Malcom, discovers Fredrik and Desirée after an evening together. Charlotte, the Count’s wife, is suspicious as well and all hilarity ensues when they all - yes, all - join Desirée and her family for a weekend in the country of Desirée estate. A web of affairs takes on a whole new meaning with everyone under one roof.
Like much of Sondheim’s shows, the plot can be confusing at first and especially when writing it out, as you can see above. However this is the brilliance of how his mind works. On stage it’s completely manageable with the book by Hugh Wheeler. What makes Sondheim such a phenomenal musical genius is his willingness to break the rules of music.
Music is mathematical and follows a set of rules. Musicians break the rules all the time, there is something specifically about Sondheim and how he does it. His music and lyrics often don’t match in time as measures of music are filled with so many words that performers often find themselves out of breath -- however it still feels right. It feels connected and still somehow manages to flow off the page into the air of a performers notes. Speaking as a former performer, his music is some of the most challenging I’ve ever had the privilege to perform however it’s also the most rewarding.
This cast, brilliantly directed by Peter Rothstein, makes Sondheim look easy. Their effortless singing and understanding of the already rich text makes this one of the most superb productions I’ve seen of his in years. With beautiful voices among many of the cast, it made this small Ritz theatre feel so much larger than it really was with their notes soaring above the audience.
Susan Hofflander plays Madame and had an almost Angela Lansbury quality of humor to her as she was able to land laughs with just a look. During intermission I looked up more about the show and completely forgot that Lansbury did in fact play this role in the recent 2009 revival. Britta Ollmann plays Anne’s maid, Petra, and had one of the strongest voices in the ensemble and let everyone know it with her song “The Miller’s Son.” Elizabeth Hawkinson, who plays the Count’s wife Charlotte, has a stunning soprano voice that meshed effortlessly with Grace Chermak, who plays Anne, during their duet “Every Day A Little Death.”
I had two stand out favorites in this production. The first is someone I’ve seen in numerous productions over the last year and that is Rodolfo Nieto, who played the Count. I’ve said it before but Nieto has one of the most gorgeously rich baritone voices that I’ve ever heard. I would rush out to purchase a cover of Broadway classics sung by him because his voice is unparalleled. Nieto tops it off by also being an extremely talented actor, adapting to any story and character he’s cast in. I’ll continue to say it in every review until it happens, but someone please cast Nieto in Sweeney Todd, IMMEDIATELY.
The second favorite was Twin Cities favorite Sally Wingert who leads this ensemble as Desirée Armfeldt and does so masterfully. I’ll be the first to admit that whenever I see Wingert’s name attached, I immediately know that I’ll be in for a treat. However I was skeptical with this one due to the fact that I’d never seen her in a leading role for a musical specifically. However there is no better part for her to play then Desirée. Her wit is on point and her ability to switch emotions at the drop of a hat is what fully captivates audiences across the Twin Cities. While I’ve never seen Wingert fully belt out a show tune before, the musicals most popular tune “Send in the Clowns,” is a perfect testament as to how skillful of a performer she is. Singing a song is one thing but being able to act it and connect with the lyrics as a character is another and Wingert knows how to do that.
A fun little history note about the song is that “Send in the Clowns” really was never meant to be sung out. It is the lyrics that mean so much to the character and helps tell the story so well. The original Desirée, played by Glynis Johns, was never that strong of a singer and could barely sustain a phrase. Sondheim wrote this song specifically for her in which lines ended with consonants so that there was no need to hold them out measure for measure.
This production is also extremely visual for the eyes thanks to scenic designer, Joel Sass, and costume designer, Rich Hamson. The first act is seen almost through a vintage lens of lace and monochrome, mimicking an old photograph. The costumes feature various shades of white and almost sepia that compliment the set. Upon the second act, the design shifts completely to be full of stunning spring colors as love continues to blossom throughout the cast. You can really see the differences in the gallery of photos above. It was a lovely and well thought out design that compliments the show and its themes.
I really could go on for pages about how great this show was. It’s enchanting and beloved by audiences who have seen it so far. Theater Latté Da has had such success with this show that they added performances in February and then also extended it through March 10. Tickets are scarce and going fast so purchase sooner rather than later by clicking the button below.
A Little Night Music plays at Theater Latté Da now through March 10th.