A Little Night Music an Evening of Superlatives at Barrington Stage

What do you say when it appears that all of the superlatives you can come up with are not enough to adequately express what you have seen? A Little Night Music, based on the 1955 Ingmar Bergman film Smiles of a Summer Night, explores the love lives of several upper-class Swedish families, the triangles that cross, and the love lives of several ancillary staff as they frolic, romp and explore one another in a countryside estate, backstage at the theater, and at various city homes. 

photo by Daniel Rader

The play (music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler) premiered on Broadway in 1973. This is the first time in 25 years that it has graced the stage at Barrington Stage Company

Directed by retiring Artistic Director and company founder, Julianne Boyd, she could not have found a more perfect swan song to present. A Little Night Music is her parting gift to her audiences.  Boyd moves her cast so perfectly and fluidly around the stage, that they appear to float.  The talent which she has amassed is second to none. From the smallest part to the lead performers, their voices get better and better… they start at outstanding and escalate from there.

There is a Greek Chorus consisting of Adam Richardson, Rebecca Pitcher, Stephanie Bacastow, Andrew Marks Maughan, and Leslie Jackson that offer stunning musical backup, often performing the thoughts of the major characters, dancing effortlessly to move forward the exposition and help with set changes. 

The story is framed by Madame Armfeldt, the elder courtesan magnificently portrayed by Broadway veteran Mary Beth Peil, who offers a master class in performance art with the turn of her head or a glance of her eyes. She explains to her granddaughter, Fredrika, (enchantingly acted by Barrington newcomer Kate Day Magocsi) the goings on of the adults around her, how love manipulates their lives, and how the summer night smiles three times.  Fredrika’s mother is actress Desiree Armfeldt who has a proud storied history of liaisons with a rather long litany of men, most married.

The Count (Cooper Grodin) is an overgrown self-indulged buffoon, who happens to be Desiree’s current lover. Grodin inhabits the character as he fills out the Count’s uniform, perfectly. His booming rich voice fills the theater. Sierra Boggess does great justice as the Countess and the two are perfect counterpoints to one another. Boggess plays the fragile, broken-spirited wife with a thin-shelled veneer of bravado as if she had the part written for her. 

photo by Daniel Rader

Fredrik Egerman is a somewhat hen-pecked, downtrodden attorney, married to 18-year-old Anne, a woman younger than his son Henrik. Henrik is frustrated in more ways than can be imagined, though primarily in that he is hopelessly in love with his teenage stepmother. Noah Wolfe brings angst, sexual frustration, and pain through every pore of his being. His tenor voice cries out with emotion, as he laments his situation in “Now”, while his stepmother Sabina Collazo sings in the adjacent bedroom as her husband naps, that she will (after 11 months of marriage) sleep with her husband, “Soon”. Her husband plots to himself various methods of seduction of his bride, either by force or manipulation in “Now”. The numbers are sung almost as a round, and set the tone for the confusion that ensues throughout the show.

Jason Danieley, who co-created and directed the Boston Pops Stephen Sondheim Tribute Concert at Tanglewood this summer, is the ideal love lost, love-struck and totally confused Fredrik. Danieley plays perfectly the clown you have to love. It is Emily Skinner as Desiree around whom the show is centered. Skinner controls the action of the players. She has a wonderful stage presence, gorgeous voice, and incredible command of the stage. 

Sondheim (like many others) does not traditionally write numbers to be pulled out of the show and turned into hits. A Little Night Music offers us one of the theater’s most memorable, though, in “Send in the Clowns”; Desiree’s reminiscence of her life and her loves. Skinner performs it with the utmost restraint, almost internalizing her thoughts as we are embarrassingly allowed to eavesdrop on her deepest feelings. It is without exception the highlight of an evening filled with highlights. 

photo by Daniel Rader

Yoon Bae’s set design is beautiful in its fragility and simplicity. David Lander’s lighting design complements Bae’s design and Boyd’s direction. Robert La Fosse’s choreography adds elegance and class to an already magical production. Costume Designer Sara Jean Tosetti has created a world of flawless fashion. Each costume makes a statement about their character that allows the audience to immediately connect and understand who they are before uttering a note or speaking a word. 

A Little Night Music is a sheer joy. It is a gift that Julianne Boyd has offered up to her audiences as a thank you for allowing us to share her visions and creations. What we have been given is something we need to thank her for.
A Little Night Music runs on the Boyd-Quinson Stage of the Barrington Stage Co. through August 28. For more information and reservations: www.barringtonstageco.org or call 413-236-8888.

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