- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 10, 2002

In the deepness of summer, our minds tend to turn to the consistency of cobbler. We crave lightness, the occasional breeze, cool drinks and foods that aren't too complicated.
How fitting that "A Little Night Music," the last of the six home-grown productions from the Kennedy Center's "Sondheim Celebration" (September's "Pacific Overtures" comes from Tokyo's New National Theatre), is perhaps Stephen Sondheim's most lilting and bucolic musical.
Based on Ingmar Bergman's lovely "Smiles of A Summer Night," "A Little Night Music" uses the three-quarter rhythms of the waltz to express the various ups and downs of three delightfully pixilated romances.
Set in turn-of-the-century Sweden, the musical revels in the follies of the upper classes. Fredrik Egerman (played with laid-back charm by John Dossett) is a middle-aged lawyer newly married to Anne (Sarah Uriarte Berry, who is silly, but utterly adorable and in possession of a gliding operatic voice), a giddy teenager who seems to be playing at keeping house and having a husband.
Anne is more like the younger sister than the stepmother to Fredrik's brooding, intellectual son, Henrik (Danny Gurwin, sexy in that mopey way that girls love), a devotee of Martin Luther. But all is not homilies and hellfire Henrik is madly in love with Anne, who gets a huge charge out of teasing him unmercifully but doesn't completely know why.
Fredrik, on the other hand, has long adored the worldly actress Desiree Armfeldt (Blair Brown), and recently has come back into her life. Desiree has not been lonely no siree. She has taken up with the comic braggart Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Douglas Sills), a handsome dragoon whose high opinion of himself reminds you of the character Gaston in "Beauty and the Beast." Mr. Sills squeezes every drop of testosterone from the Count, especially in the hilarious "In Praise of Women," a high-falutin' melody with insinuating lyrics about how pretty and useful women are, leading to Mr. Sills pondering whether or not Desiree and Fredrik are having an affair before coming to the vain conclusion that no way could she be with a geezer when she already has a stud.
The Count also has a further entanglement his wife Charlotte (Randy Graff), who has one-liners Lady Bracknell would envy. Charlotte, played with drop-dead soignee by Miss Graff, uses exquisitely dry bons mots to mask her anguish over her husband's infidelity. She is full of sorrow, not bitterness, and sorrow is something Mr. Sondheim does so beautifully. Charlotte's song, "Every Day a Little Death," is a show-stopper, with Miss Graff lightly dancing over the lyrics as if pressing hard would just be too painful.
Miss Graff is joined in the chorus by Miss Berry, full of childish concern.
Observing these goings-on are a chorus of richly garbed women and men in tails (Christopher Flint, Anna Bergman, Illona Dulaski, Siobhan Kolker, Peter Cormican) who literally waltz in and out of the action. They are light on their feet, but frequently off-key, which is something else altogether than being discordant.
The other observers are Desiree's daughter, Fredrika (Kristen Bell), who is young but not oblivious, and her grandmother Madame Armfeldt (the delectably jaded Barbara Byrne), a fabled royal courtesan payed handsomely in the song "Liaisons," she sings of acquiring "a little Titian" for her favors.
Everything comes together and blows apart during a weekend at Madame Armfeldt's chateau, expressed in the gorgeous Act 1 closing number, "A Weekend in the Country," where the cast sings of their grand hopes. The set, which up to this time was merely functional, bursts into autumnal color with huge leaves and slender tree trunks, giving the stage a "Midsummer Night's Dream" ambience.
Desiree is among those with great expectations, and when they seem to be thwarted, she gets her big moment, with "Send in the Clowns." Granted, you don't have to be Dawn Upshaw to belt out the plaintive, world-weary song, but being in tune couldn't hurt.
Miss Brown also brings a brittleness, a brassy coldness to the role that has you wondering why Fredrik and the Count are so besotted.
This is a fine "Little Night Music," but not a particularly soaring one. It never really catches fire or takes you to greater heights. After so much magic and transcendent beauty, the Sondheim festival is ending on a pleasant, yet subdued note.

WHAT: "A Little Night Music" by Stephen Sondheim
WHEN: Through Aug. 25. Playing in repertory with "Passion" and "Merrily We Roll Along"
WHERE: Eisenhower Theatre at the Kennedy Center
TICKETS: $29-$79
PHONE: 202/467-4600

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide