CENTERSTAGE's A Little Night Music

CENTERSTAGE has assembled a cast and crew of Broadway veterans for its production of A Little Night Music. Do they live up to their résumés? Well, some of them, but not necessarily the ones you expect.

A Little Night Music (Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler) is part operetta, part sex farce. It takes place in Sweden during the midsummer, a time when the sun never completely sets, giving everything a dusky, glowing atmosphere (here provided by lighting designer Robert Wierzel).

Fredrik Egerman has been married for eleven months to the very young Anne. Anne also happens to be a virgin. Yes, that’s right. Fredrik finds her equally enchanting and frustrating. Fredrik has a son from a previous marriage, Henrik, who is secretly in love with Anne.

Fredrik’s frustration leads him to pay a visit to Desirée Armfeldt, a former lover. She is currently romantically entwined with Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm. His wife, Countess Charlotte Malcolm, is well aware of her husband’s affairs, yet loves him anyways. The first act sets up all these plot strings. The second act brings them together as the characters all meet up for a weekend in the country at the estate of Desirée’s mother, Madame Armfeldt.

Mark Lamos’s direction is at times a little heavy handed. He begins the evening with a montage of sorts were the audience is introduced to the characters. He employed the same device in his recent Lincoln Center production of Cymbeline. Both times it made me feel like he was afraid the audience wouldn’t be able to keep up.

It should be noted that I attended the very first night where the performers had an audience, so I’m sure that some of them in another week will settle into their roles a bit more, and the piece will improve. On final dress, there were three stand-outs in the cast.

Sarah Uriarte Berry plays the earthy, flirty maid Petra. Petra tells the audience her life philosophy in the song “The Miller’s Son.” She sings of all the fun she longs to have before she has to be trapped in a marriage forever. Berry’s performance of the song is excellent and remarkably clear. It is a delightful number, and even more delightful when you can understand every word.

Kate Baldwin gets the most bang for her buck in the role of Charlotte. This role is a gift to an actor, and when well-played can downright steal the show. Baldwin doesn’t quite manage that, but she does dominate her scenes, and her dry, sarcastic delivery is perfectly timed. I did find the pain of the character to be less convincing, however.

Part of that is because Maxwell Caulfield didn’t really work for me as the Count, so I had a hard time believing his wife was truly in love with him. I didn’t find him physically dominating, and his bravado felt a little forced. I also think the actor played the character’s ridiculousness a bit too much.

My favorite was Josh Young as Henrik, which is not a part you expect to be impressed by. Young plays Henrik with appropriate youthful awkwardness and aggravation at not being taken seriously. Often the audience doesn’t take this role seriously, but Young prevents that from happening. He remembers that Henrik has inner turmoil, but also inner passion, and this comes out thanks to Young’s strong singing voice. His “Later” is beautiful, and it makes you wish the character had more to sing in the second act.

Barbara Walsh was disappointing as Desirée. She never manages to sparkle, and doesn’t seem to have quite found her footing in the role yet. She is not helped by her costumes, designed by Candice Donnelly. The other women look gorgeous in their gowns, but Walsh’s are strangely unflattering.

Stephen Bogardus does well as Fredrik. Julia Osbourne plays Anne as you would expect, though I found her voice to be a little shrill at times. The liebeslieder quintet (Whit Baldwin, Jacque Carnahan, Amy Justman, Alison Mahoney, and Joe Paparella) sing nicely, especially in the song “Remember.”

I rate the production at 3 stars, but feel it has the potential to rise to 4 stars once it actually opens, and the actors are a little more settled in their roles.
Through April 13th


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