A sexy comedy about mismatched couples, Stephen Sondheim’s A little Night Music gets a rewarding revival at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town. This time the waltzing score is live, and director Sean Murray and company create loveable characters that lie and cheat in the realm of A Midsummer’s Night Dream and The Big Lebowski. They can’t help but screw things up.
In the opening scene, we’re not sure who is who, but things become clear as they sing about longing and regret. As in life, there’s a dark side to this farce. By Act II, they resolve to break the rules and make things right.
The musical, which draws from the Ingmar Bergman film Smiles of a Summer Night from 1955, is a fine balance of music and dialogue. Along with love triangles, the score is structured in threes.
The setting is Sweden in the 1900s and opens with a milky blue set and a chorus of men and women in tuxes and beaded gowns. Mr. Lindquist (Joseph Grienenberger) and his suave friends with Swedish names twirl and guide us from scene to scene.
A silver-haired Murray is perfect in the role of Fredrik Egerman, an upper-class lawyer with serious marital problems. Murray starred in the same show a decade ago and spits out Hugh Wheeler’s dialogue and self-deprecating lines with a snobby tone.
For a few minutes, we are duped into thinking the sweet blonde girl in his house is his daughter. No, that’s his new wife, Anne, an 18-year-old virgin. While Fredrik hopes to consummate his marriage someday, he has to take a nap. He worries about his aging body. Anne worries about a pimple.
Fredrik’s true love is the aging actress Desirée Armfeldt, played by a regal and believable Karole Foreman. To support her daughter, she keeps touring and flirting. Along with Fredrik, she does the hokey pokey with Count Carl-Magnus, a buffoon played by David S. Humphrey. His outlandish uniform and heel taps are a hoot.
Pitty young Henrik, the sex-starved divinity student as played by Nick Eiter, because he’s doomed to Lutheran hell for wanting his young step mother, Anne. The mismatches keep coming.
Sandy Campbell revisits the role of Charlotte, the woman married to the two-timing Count and forced to carry the luggage. Her dry delivery steals the show; her song “Every Day a Little Death” is a zinger.
The plot turns when mature Charlotte and young wife Anne team up against Desiree for stealing their husbands. Katie Sapper gives virgin Anne a Valley Girl approach to life and a piercing high pitch.
The final drama is standard farce in structure. The misfits all end up at a castle in the country, and that’s where the music does its magic. It takes nearly three hours to arrive here, but worth the wait.
When Ms. Foreman as Desirée the actress sings “Send in the Clowns,” you’ll hear communal deep breaths, because the song has depth in this context. Clowns represent fools, and Foreman sings of disappointment with the worn voice of a survivor, making her character more complicated and worthy of sympathy.
“Isn’t it rich? Are we a pair? Me here at last on the ground, you in mid-air. Send in the Clowns.
Isn’t it bliss? Don’t you approve? One who keeps tearing around, one who can’t move… But where are the clowns? Send in the clowns…”
There are four verses and a bridge. Sondheim wrote the song for actress Glynis Johns and it’s one of his most popular songs thanks to Frank Sinatra and Judy Collins who recorded it in the 1970s. In the musical, the song is reprised near the end, and it’s rewarding to hear it again.
Megan Carmitchel as housekeeper Petra also breaks hearts in her song “The Miller’s Son,” and she finds true love in man servant Frid (Jake Rosko), her class equal. Anise Ritchie as Madame Armfeldt rolls on and off in a wheel chair and opinions roll off her angry tongue. Faith Nibbe and Ava Harris alternate as young Frederika Amfeldt, a youngster wiser than most adults.
Ornate costumes by Jeanne Reith convey history and the hypocrisy of bad behavior wrapped in formal wear. Sets by Sean Fanning are sparse in a pleasing Scandinavian way. Simple furniture rolls on and off. Most striking are birch trees and miniature castle to conjure Sweden.
Conductor Terry O’Donnell and five musicians are hidden somewhere, yet we hear every waltz meter and gallop. Along with the music and comic wit, the reward in this show is its ability to touch generations. It’s never too late to make things right.
A Little Night Music runs through April 22, 2018. www.cygnettheatre.com