Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Enchanting "A Little Night Music" at SecondStory Rep (the little theater that can!)

Micheal O'Hara and Jennifer Littlefield in "A Little Night Music" (photo by Tim Poitevin)


A Little Night Music
Through March 9

SecondStory Repertory is continuing to expand its repertoire of musical theater productions in a big way. For some years, the company has included at least one major musical production in its season, and currently they are presenting an enchanting production of the intricate musical, A Little Night Music by Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and Hugh Wheeler (book).

Not only are they tackling this difficult little ditty, but right afterward, they will present Kiss of the Spider Woman and hard on its heels La Cage aux Folles. This is a heady season full of musicals!

Directed and choreographed by Chris Nardine, ALNM is wonderfully cast with exquisite singers. Nardine does a terrific job using a quintet of singers to distract from discreet scene changes and augment the basic plot as a kind of Greek Chorus. The Quintet (Shelly Traverse, Beaven Walters, Britt Boyd, Elias Traverse and Doug Fahl) begin the musical with what sounds like a warm-up routine that blends into the overture – snippets of songs to come.

Some of Sondheim’s loveliest songs are part of this musical. The first set: Now, Later, Soon is a complex suite of songs that explain the characters of Fredrik (Micheal O’Hara), married to an 18 year old still-virgin wife, Anne (Becca Orts), and Fredrik’s son Henrik (Tristan Carruthers) who is secretly also in love with Anne. As Fredrik sings Now, about wondering whether to go to bed with his wife, Anne sings Soon, as a plaintive plea for not being ready yet, and Henrik chafes at always being told “Later, Henrik, Henrik, Later.” The three pieces blend gorgeously together after being presented individually.

Fredrik takes Anne to a play starring an old flame of his, Desiree Armfeldt (Jennifer Littlefield), who cooks up a plan with her mother (Sharry O’Hare) to invite him and his new wife for a weekend in the country. Desiree thinks there might be a way to win Fredrik away from his wife and gain a more stable life with him. She must first get rid of her current lover, Carl-Magnus (Josh Krupke), a boorish officer who drags his wife (Jenny Vaughn Hall) to the country to compete for Desiree’s attention with Fredrik.

You may remember the most famous song, Send in the Clowns, came from ALNM. Desiree sings it to Fredrik as she realizes that he may well be lost to her, just as she is ready to embrace what they could have together. In the context of the production, it is a profound expression of realization and mature growth. The “clowns” reference the idea that someone should be laughing at the irony of their situation.

It is a comedy, however, so ultimately things work out. Anne figures out that Henrik loves her and she, therefore, loves Henrik. Carl-Magnus is made jealous when his wife throws herself at Fredrik, and decides he loves his wife after all. Fredrik feels relieved when Anne runs off with Henrik and he is therefore free to accept that he still loves Desiree.

All the leads are solid performers very well suited to their respective roles. O’Hara is commanding but a bit tired as Fredrik. Orts is twittery and unaware as Anne. Carruthers is woeful and bitter as Henrik, the desperately unhappy young lover. Hall is droll and amusing, and easy to identify with as the woman not sure why she is in love with a man who uses her badly. Krupke blusters amusingly as the boorish officer. Littlefield is arch and dramatic as the artist who wants to settle down, and has an easy way of being sexy without apology.

Also, Kristin Burch adroitly plays a maid who wants to have fun before she settles down. She finds a kindred soul in Frid (Chip Wood), the manservant to Mdm. Armfeldt. Young Catherine McCool plays Desiree’s young daughter with some innocence and a touch of surprising sophistication.

O’Hare as Mdm. Armfeldt is fantastic. Mdm. is a subversive older woman who laments liaisons and the disappearance of elegant mistresses who become gifted, as she was, with jewels and villas. O’Hare was a pleasure to watch in that select small role, and it was easy to imagine her playing Desiree, as her bio states she did some years back.

With musical direction by Paul Linnes, the musicians sound lush. Support from the technical side is also solid. The set has some lovely cut-out wooden lacework with a starry wall behind. (Sets, lights and sound are credited to The Squolf.) Handsome period costumes are designed by John Allbritton.

ALNM is a challenge to get right. The singers must be capable of light opera. The humor is a cool, arch and teasing type – the kind you smile at rather than guffaw loudly to. SecondStory Rep has managed to really get it right, even with much less of a budget than other musical houses around town. Kudos to the little theater that can.

For more information, go to www.secondstoryrep.org or call 425-881-6777.