SLOC’s A Little Night Music Presents a Joyous Evening of Sondheim, Mayhem & Music
It’s always interesting when a show begins to turn up on the schedules of several companies in the same general geographic area within a relatively short period of time. One wonders which came first. The schedule, we saw it and liked and want to do it too, or just several brilliant minds coming together in a random fashion at the exact moment in time.
SLOC has jumped into the fray with their most recent production of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. (seen earlier this summer at Barrington Stages’ stunning production) Night Music, based on Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night, is a romantic farce about the lives of several upper-middle-class couples in Sweden at the turn of the last century. It’s an evening of sexual musical chairs on the longest night of the year. Clearly mismatched at the start of the evening, the couples wind up with their more appropriate partners by evening’s end. It is, of course, Sondheim’s glorious music that propels the production.
Sondheim always said he wrote for trained musicians; his music was not meant to be hummable, nor did he expect the audience to leave the theatre singing his songs. This immediately sets up most community or amateur theatre groups, and many professional groups, for failure.
SLOC’s talent pool doesn’t disappoint! Musically, the cast, from the quintet that acts as the Greek chorus throughout the show to the minor characters to the major leads, all have exquisite voices. How wonderful to hear Sondheim performed the way it was meant to be. The show’s storyline is strung together by Madame Armfeldt, a woman of a certain age who regales her granddaughter, Fredrika Armfeldt, a child of 13 with the maturity of an adult, with the stories of her past, her liaisons with dukes, kings and what they lavished on her. Superbly portrayed by Pat Brady in a role that looks as if it were created for her, Brady relishes every moment, line, and look she shares on the stage. She explains to Fredrika how the summer night smiles for three groups: the young, the fools, and the elderly. At the show’s end, she exclaims that the night has smiled twice so far, once for the young and once “very broadly” for the fools.
Madame Armfeldt’s daughter, Desiree, is an actress, a profession that her mother totally disapproves of. Lindsey Dodd returns to the SLOC stage this season to a role she beautifully inhabits like a second skin. Her rendition of the classic, Send in the Clowns, offers a different interpretation than commonly heard, but it works beautifully. She spars with Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, her lover, also exceptionally well played with great bluster and ego by James W. Alexander, and the love of her life, Fredrik Egerman, the one who got away, played with a combination of naivete and frustration by Shawn Olander-Hahn. Alexander and Olander-Hahn’s voices carry off the complex Sondheim music with aplomb.
Michael Burns as Egerman’s frustrated, depressed lovelorn son Henrik, and Ellya Winchester as the elder Egerman’s 18-year-old wife, do fine jobs in their roles. Elizabeth Corey is Countess Charlotte Malcolm, the trod upon, abused wife of the Count. She is perhaps the most pathetic of the play’s characters, and yet she, at some level, enjoys her lot in life. Corey’s delivery is spot on, her line reading is perfect, and again, she has a singing voice that fits perfectly into the mix. Jalissa Watson, as the free-spirited maid Petra clearly enjoys the role and, except for a few opening night bumps in her music, was great fun on the stage.
Kudos to director Brian Clemente, who had to step into one of the quintet members at the last moment when a cast member got COVID. If you’d not known he was a last-minute fill-in, you would not have known.
Clemente’s directorial choices left something to be desired. He has, as directors do, placed his interpretation on the production. His choices may have been a bit odd, the use of the quintet, who normally respond to the actions on the stage in song, has become much more than background pieces, oftentimes injecting themselves into the action with looks and nods to the audience and one another, can become more of a distraction than a benefit. His use of a wall of doors across the rear of the stage works as an interesting contrivance most of the time. The large dinner scene is played on the floor, more like a picnic, and is just odd. It seems that the company could have found a table and chairs to serve the formal dinner rather than a blanket and pillows.
Technically the show has highs and lows. Robert Soricelli leads the seven-piece orchestra making it appear, at times, fuller and larger than the actual players in the “pit.”
It is a shame that Burns could not actually play the cello on the stage, as it is an integral part of his character and the action of the show’s beginning scenes. It becomes an awkward distraction.
Overall, A Little Night Music overcomes its technical obstacles and offers a well-performed evening in the theater. As the music says, a weekend in the country is delightful if planned. An evening that SLOC has planned is a lovely evening for its audiences. Night Music runs through January 29 at the SLOC Theater, 427 Franklin St., Schenectady For more information on tickets: www.sloctheater.org or call 518-730-7370.