San Diego Theater Review: A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC (Cygnet Theatre Company)

by Milo Shapiro on March 18, 2018

in Theater-Regional

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CYGNET DOESN’T SEND IN ANY CLOWNS
IN THIS LOVELY REVIVAL

Much like modern art, Stephen Sondheim musicals aren’t for everyone. They are purposefully discordant in places, often dark in tone, and border on operatic on occasion. Other parts will be sweetly melodic with gorgeous harmonies − strikingly different from the same composer. Whether you like Sondheim shows or not, though, it’s hard to deny that there’s brilliance to their construction.  And when it’s done as well as it is at Cygnet under Artistic Director Sean Murray’s direction, there’s an awful lot to like.

A Broadway smash in 1973, this light-hearted, sweet drama is a timeless period piece. Costume designer Jeanne Reith outdid herself in developing early 20th-century gowns, hats, and men’s tails so striking that they almost distract us from the plot and music for a moment. We’re transported back to a summer in Sweden in approximately 1910. The characters frequently comment on being a little out of sorts in the land of the never-quite-setting sun.

Sean Murray also plays lead character Frederik Egerman. Eleven months before we meet him, middle-aged Frederick  married pretty 18-year-old Anne (Katie Sapper), so innocent and childlike that she cannot yet bring herself to part with her virginity, even in wedlock. The pair see a play, catching a performance by a mildly-renowned actress named Desiree (Karole Foreman). Anne jealously takes note that, from the stage to their box seats, Frederick and Desiree appear to share a moment. She is not mistaken, as fourteen years earlier, the two had been lovers.

Desiree herself currently has a narcissistic lover named Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (gleefully played by David S. Humphrey), who in turn has a frustrated wife named Charlotte (Sandy Campbell). The plot thickens deliciously as the worlds of the five collide on a weekend in the country. While as much a sentimental tale as a comedy, there are many moments of humor throughout, particularly in the delightfully delivered “You Must Meet My Wife,” in which many of the lines have double meanings.

The only negative to this book is that, at two hours and forty-five minutes (with intermission), it really should command that every minute be necessary. There are several songs that go on longer than need be. One or two in Act I don’t add enough to make up for the first half feeling drawn out. That said, the equally long second act was so entertaining that it felt completely compelling.

Interestingly, the most famous song from this program, “Send in the Clowns,” was actually an afterthought for Sondheim, with its short phrasing and consonant-ending lines (“Isn’t it rich?”) built around the voice of Glynis Johns, the first actress to play Desiree. Although the famous Judy Collins version seems a bit dreary forty years later, with Desiree looking into Frederick’s eyes before us, it feels fresh and lively with beautiful vocals and a moving presentation by Ms. Foreman, rounding out an overall excellent production by Cygnet.

photos by Daren Scott

A Little Night Music
Cygnet Theatre Company
Old Town Theater, 4040 Twiggs St.
Wed & Thurs at 7:30; Fri at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on April 22, 2018
for tickets, call 619-337-1525 or visit Cygnet

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