Flawless cast celebrates life, love in ‘Music’
Cory Goodrich (from left), Shannon Corey, Shannon Cochran, John Finley, Deanna Dunagan star in “A Little Night Music.” | Photo by Michael Brosilow
‘A Little Night Music’
Writers’ Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe
Through July 8
Call (847) 242-6000 or visit www.writerstheatre.org
Updated: May 15, 2012 5:58PM
Full disclosure: We’ve seen “A Little Night Music” three times in the past year — twice with leading ladies of serious star wattage writ on bold on the marquee. And while it’s in bad taste and unfair to compare, we’re going to do so anyway.
Which is to say, those million-dollar, $200-a-ticket endeavors on Broadway have nothing on the current production in Glencoe. Directed by Bill Brown and featuring a compact chamber ensemble, Writers’ Theatre’s “A Little Night Music” is irresistibly seductive.
Stephen Sondheim’s musical (inspired by the Ingmar Bergman film, “Smiles of a Summer Night”) is about many things, but a celebration of the sensual is front and center.
Around that lush core, Sondheim and book writer Hugh Wheeler set characters spinning through middle age crises, youthful insecurities, celebratory sexuality and bitter heartbreak. It’s a dazzling constellation of plot points, each one gleaming thanks to a cast that clearly captures all the show’s subtlety and humor.
The heart of the piece beats in Desiree Armfeldt (Shannon Cochran), an actress in turn-of-the-century Sweden. Sophisticated and unencumbered by conventional morality, she knows the love of her life is one Frederik Egerman (Jonathan Weir), even as she carries on an (unsatisfying) affair with the preening Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Brandon Dahlquist). Egerman is also married, to the 18-year-old Anne Egerman (Kristen French), a fluttery creature who is still a virgin after 11 months of marriage.
Rounding out the cast are Tiffany Scott, creating a portrait of commingled longing, anger and despair as a woman hopelessly in love with a man who prefers the arms of Desiree Armfeldt. Finally, there’s Deanna Dunagan as Desiree’s mother Madame Armfeldt, bringing a regal, incandescent beauty and authority to the stage as she regales guests and family alike with tales of her legendary liaisons past.
If all that makes it sound as if Sondheim had nothing but sex on the brain when he wrote “A Little Night Music,” we’ve done a grave disservice to the show. This is a piece about yearning, desire and folly in all their forms. Brown understands this, and so does his flawless cast.
Cochran makes for a sinewy, down-to-earth Desiree. Her rendition of “Send in the Clowns” is an aching, melancholy show-stopper (and, if we may indulge in a bit of snark, so exquisitely done it happily purged from our mind the gawdawful memory of Catherine Zeta-Jones making an atonal, weirdly melodramatic hash of the same song).
Cochran is matched in power and nuance by Weir’s Frederik, who displays both a strength and a wistful vulnerability that absolutely capture the folly and fortitude of middle age.
Brianna Borger lights up the stage in a powerhouse performance as a maid with a zest for life and all its pleasures. Her delivery of “The Miller’s Son” is at once joyful, effervescent and bittersweet as well as gorgeously sung. Dunagan is always elegant as Madame Armfeldt, while Dahlquist brings just the right amount of buffoonish bluster to Count Malcolm. Also marvelously effective is Royen Kent, as the awkward, perpetually frustrated cellist Henrik. You can all but see his insides seething with bottled up passions.
“A Little Night Music” also sounds wonderful, thanks to musical director Valerie Maze and a vocally seamless ensemble of “lieder singers” (Borger, Dahlquist, Scott, J. Michael Finley and Cory Goodrich).
In all, Brown has crafted an exquisite production. This is “A Little Night Music” that hits all the right notes.