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Posted on Sat, Nov 24, 2012 : 2:09 a.m.

Performance Network offers an irresistibly fun take on 'A Little Night Music'

By Jenn McKee


John Seibert and Naz Edwards in "A Little Night Music"

photo by Sean Carter | courtesy of Performance Network

What did you think of the show? Vote in the poll and / or leave a comment at the end of this post:

The cast and crew of Performance Network’s new production of Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” had one of those opening nights that theater artists dread, where a whole series of little things go wrong: Umbrellas wouldn’t open; a maid’s cap fell off; a necklace broke offstage (sending beads bouncing across the floor); a dress’ train got caught on the scenery; the set’s focal point, a moon, didn’t get moved where it was supposed to go in one scene (so it was inched into position throughout the next); and there was some brief, nasty audio feedback.

Yet despite all this, “Night Music” was probably the most fun I’ve had at a production of a Sondheim show—so credit the Network’s seasoned, talented cast for not only soldiering through the technical mishaps, but also staying focused on executing director Phil Simmons’ witty vision for the show.

Based on Ingmar Bergman’s film “Smiles of a Summer Night,” with a book by Hugh Wheeler, “Night Music” tells the story of a middle-aged actress, Desiree Armfeldt (Naz Edwards), who’s touring with a theater company when she spots her old lover, Fredrik (John Seibert), in the audience with his young trophy wife of 11 months, Anne (Adrienne Pisoni). Fredrik and Desiree’s passion is rekindled backstage, but then Desiree’s married lover, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Scott Crownover), disrupts them. Desiree soon asks her mother (Barbara Scanlon) to invite Fredrik’s family to her country estate for the weekend, but when Carl-Magnus and his wife arrive uninvited, everything is thrown into disarray.

While watching Simmons’ nearly-three-hour take on “Night Music,” I thought about how much clearer, and more moving, Shakespeare productions are when the performers have an unshakable grasp of precisely what they’re saying; the same goes for Sondheim. For the composer’s songs are dense and, while musically challenging, have information that’s absolutely vital to the audience’s understanding of the characters and the stakes. Performers can’t just sing the songs prettily; they have to communicate the meaning and emotion with meticulous clarity—and “Night Music”’s cast does this exceedingly well, thanks in large part to R. MacKenzie Lewis’ tremendous music direction. (Only the notoriously difficult opening scene, featuring Overture and “Night Waltz,” felt a little shaky on opening night, as though everyone was getting their feet under them, musically speaking.)

Anchoring the show is Edwards, whose undeniable charisma and killer singing chops make her a perfect Desiree. Seibert, meanwhile, seemingly offers a clinic on how vocal precision, expert comic timing, and subtle gestures and shifts in expression can stealthily charm the socks off an audience. Edwards' and Seibert’s duet, “You Must Meet My Wife” is a standout number.

Pisoni and Crownover are both powerhouse singers, and while they hilariously embrace the comically broad nature of their characters—Anne’s a chirpy, talk-a-mile-a-minute young woman, while Carl-Magnus is a hyper-masculine narcissist—they nonetheless manage to stay within the production’s bounds regarding tone. Plus, in supporting roles, Leslie Hull, as Petra the maid, and Barbara Scanlon, as Desiree’s elderly mother, have some winning moments of their own, while Eva Rosenwald, as Carl-Magnus’ wife, proves that bitterness can sometimes be downright hysterical.

Suzanne Young’s costumes, opening night logistics aside, successfully evoke the turn-of-the-20th-century era while also playfully underlining Simmons’ comic tone (Crownover’s moustache by itself is proof of that). Monika Essen designed the set—an evening landscape set behind sliding panels with numerous trees painted on them—as well as the props; and Daniel C. Walker provided the lighting design.

Simmons should, by rights, get the lion's share of praise; for while many Sondheim productions feel a bit dry, overwrought and overly reverent of this god of contemporary musical theater, Simmons’ “Night Music” takes a virtual highlighter to the script’s moments of potential humor and cashes in on every one, making the characters far more human and recognizable in the process.

A handful of minor, opening night technical glitches are ultimately no match for that level of emotional connection.

"A Little Night Music" continues through Dec. 30 at Performance Network. For background, see the preview article; for tickets, see the Performance Network website.



Sat, Dec 1, 2012 : 9:59 p.m.

Naz Edwards' rendition of Send in the Clowns is simply exquisite, and I feel like I have a whole new concept of it. What a wonderful performance!

Sharlan Douglas

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 4:40 a.m.

FYI, it's tough to play Russian roulette with a single-shot flintlock handgun. ("No, YOU go first.")


Sun, Nov 25, 2012 : 11:03 p.m.

to Mike - all shows are not sold out. You can get tickets at perf nets web site... to Jenn -- did you find out if PerfNet had permission from MTI to eliminate the quintet and change lyrics (which is illegal per contract) ?

Sharlan Douglas

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 4:41 a.m.

I thought the omission of the lieber singers adversely affected the story-telling.

Jenn McKee

Mon, Nov 26, 2012 : 2:56 a.m.

Here's the reply I got from the production's director, Phil Simmons: "We jumped through the MTI hoops requesting the lyric edits we wanted. Had to write an amazingly long letter including 'compelling reasons' for edits/add ons, and the exact lyrics we were proposing to alter."

Mike Stone

Sat, Nov 24, 2012 : 11:01 p.m.

I always find it amusing when someone goes to a dress rehearsal where the cast and crew are working out the bugs and sit in the back row and all of a sudden become the critic. I guess we all have opinions but at least seeing the show would help form an intelligent opinion. I was at opening night and despite the little glitches the entire cast was great including the young Fredrika who took an extremely challenging song and made it beautiful. Hope to see the show again but I heard all shows were sold out before opening night.


Sat, Nov 24, 2012 : 6:59 p.m.

The small technical issues that occurred opening night did not bother me as mush as did the off balanced sound. I was so aware of the "piped in" music, which was a bit overpowering (though the singers could be heard) that it did take away a little from my enjoyment of a really fine production, especially in the first act.

Ed Kimball

Sat, Nov 24, 2012 : 2:14 p.m.

Sunday's preview matinee still had a problem with an umbrella that wouldn't open, but other than that PNT had corrected most of the technical problems. All in all it was a great production. In the back row, I could hear nearly all the lines and lyrics, except for those some in from the young lady who played Frederika (Madison Deadman) in the first act. Even that seemed to be improved in the second act. I have a much more positive attitude towards Sondheim in general than does Ms. McKee, but I agree with her conclusion that this performance does justice to his work. Bit of trivia for those not familiar with the work: all musical numbers are in 3/4 time. But there is such a variety of melodies, harmonies, and lyrics, that most viewers (including this one) don't realize that fact until it's pointed out.