“A Little Night Music” Enchanting at Signature Theatre

By Sara Dudley Brown, Theatre Editor

Holly Twyford (Desiree Armfeldt)
Photo by Christopher Mueller

I have seen “A Little Night Music” many times since it opened on Broadway in 1973, but I have never seen a more sophisticated, beautifully sung and/or acted production. Director Eric Schaeffer proves once again that no one can top his direction of a Sondheim musical comedy. No one!  To quote from a line in the show, “It’s perfection!” It’s enchanting!  It’s adult!  It’s simply marvelous entertainment and it’s right here in Arlington, Virginia. See it for Robert Perdziola’s lovely turn of the century upper class period costumes.  See it for the exquisite Stephen Sondheim music directed by the brilliant Jon Kalbfleisch leading a lush 13-piece orchestra or Karma Camp’s lyrical choreography, or to hear those Sondheim lyrics, which have been described as “whipped cream with knives,” but, do see it before it ends on October 8!

“A Little Night Music,” with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler, is based on the 1955 comedic film “Smiles of a Summer Night” by Ingmar Bergman. It is set in 1900 Sweden and the plot turns on several mismatched couples who are searching for their true partners.  In Stephen Sondheim’s more than capable hands gorgeous music, complicated coupling, uncoupling and hilarity ensue.

Bobby Smith (Fredrik Egerman) and Will Gartshore (Carl-Magnus Malcolm
Photo by Christopher Mueller

The cast selected for this presentation is extraordinarily accomplished and perfect for their roles. Holly Twyford, making her Washington DC musical theater debut as Desiree Armfeldt, is such an eclectic, beautiful and accomplished actress, she brings Desiree to life with verve and complete understanding of this complicated woman with secrets. Her “Send in the Clowns” eagerly awaited by the audience, landed nicely.  Twyford not only isn’t Glynis Johns, she’s better! Florence Lacey, regally elegant as Madame Leonora Armfeldt and Bobby Smith as the confused and love-addled Fredrik Egerman, simply slay the audience with their command of the stage. To hear Florence Lacey’s insightful recitation of the Sondheim lyrics done by Hermione Gingold from the original cast is simply magical!  And Bobby Smith. Triple threat extraordinaire, his acting seems to grow even more skilled (how is this possible?) and his voice gets warmer and more mellow in the tenor range each time I see him. Bravo!

Nicki Elledge is winsome and pretty with just the right edge as Anne (Frederik’s wife, who is 30 years younger than him), and Will Gartshore simply kills as Count Carl Magnus making him the breakout performer of this show for me along with Tracy Lynn Olivera as Countess Charlotte Malcolm. Tracy Lynn was on fire on Press Night!  Every word she uttered brought down the house and rightly so. Her timing and biting wit is perfection! Sam Ludwig is perfect as poor dour Henrik Egerman; Anna Grace Nowalk, is charming as sweet, smart Fredrika; and sexy, gorgeous Maria Rizzo nails “The Miller’s Son” as Petra.

Maria Rizzo (Petra)
Photo by Christopher Mueller

Rounding out this excellent cast are the Liebeslieders (many of whom play several roles) consisting of Kevin McAllister, Quynh-My Luu, Maria Egler, Benjamin Lurye, and Susan Derry. The Liebeslieders, who open the show and anchor all the action, are all wonderfully strong singers who also dance beautifully while setting the scene and the tone of the show.  This reviewer found the women’s almost modern dress a little surprising and, since the rest of the cast is in true period dress, wonders about this decision, but, thankfully, it doesn’t affect their singing.

Holly Twyford (Desiree Armfeldt
Photo by Christopher Mueller

The set by Paul Tate dePoo III is elegant, shimmering, minimal, and frames the action perfectly with set pieces flying in and out. I, along with other audience members, gasped when a completely outfitted dining table for 10 flew in.   But the show stopper set piece is Desiree’s gorgeous red bed with the velvet covered rococo headboard which in color perfectly matches her stunning red dress (see photo).  Desiree’s hats, too, are to die for.  But wait, Anne Nesmith’s wigs, especially Madame Armfeldt’s, are beautiful and perfect for the time period. I want to see this production again, just to focus on Perdziola’s use of sumptuous fabrics in the muted creams and soft whites of summer and the couturier look of the clothes for all the actors.

Maria Rizzo, Kevin McAllister, Tracy Lynn Olivera, Nicki Elledge, Sam Ludwig, Holly Twyford, Will Gartshore, and Florence Lacey
Photo by Paul Tate DePoo III

I’ve been humming this music all night and much of the day since I saw the show. I don’t want to let that magical feeling evaporate. To have this perfectly conceived, magical, mystical musical open Signature’s boffo 28th season is a dream come true for musical theatre buffs everywhere.  Don’t miss it!

Other creative team members for this production not mentioned above: John Owen Edwards, orchestrations; Kerry Epstein, production stage manager; and Taryn Friend, assistant stage manager.

Performance and Ticket Information:

“A Little Night Music” by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler, Directed by Eric Schaeffer. Performances run through October 8, 2017 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, Va.  Call 703-820-9771 or visit Single tickets now on sale.  Runs two a one half hours with one intermission.

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