TAKE A SUMMER WALTZ - THE BEST SONDHEIM NOW ON STAGE AT AMERICAN CONSERVATORY THEATRE

May 31, 2015

 A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC,  IS AN ENCHANTING AMERICAN CLASSIC  

Based on Ingmar Bergman's film, Smiles of a Summer Night, this 1973 chamber styled opus may be one of the most fun intimate soaps and soiree the American musical theater has ever embraced. I consider myself a true Sondheim, fanboy, yet this is the first time I have seen this musical. Regional theatre rarely if at all tackles this beautiful musical A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC.

 ACT ends their current 2014 - 2015 with this elegant production of LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, and the reward is well worth this evening of musical theatre. This intelligent, beautiful, moving, musical is one of Sondheim’s masterpieces. The subtext of this theatrical waltz is wonderful to see. The show first version was in 1973 with a book by Hugh Wheeler (Candide and Sweeney Todd) and based on Bergman's film. Sondheim’s music is in great creative hands here in San Francisco this early summer. A wonderful cast mostly imported from New York brings this musical to your feet at the end of every performance.

 Directed by Tony Nominee Mark Lamos, his take on this icon of Sondheim's work is a homage to the American musical theatre. Lamos brings the Scandinavian summer night to the Geary stage with class. Sondheim composed this score in waltz three/four to add to the sexual subtext of the story. As the story opens we meet a greek chorus of sorts masked and playful as they guide us through the two and half hour waltz.

 

 Set in 1900 Sweden, it's a story of three families and their tangled, liaisons. But, It's the philosophy, witty conversations, music, and cynical look at life, love and death that make this story hard to turn away. A lister Patrick Cassidy is the romantic lawyer Frederik Egerman, well cast and so very handsome. But this is a good point to mention that the male leads for this musical are the weak link. They can’t sing, but surely their acting makes up for that. Paolo Mantalban as suiter Carl Malcolm also is perfect in the look for the part. The male leads are clearly upstage by the women, not only in custom but voice as well.

 Karen Ziemba plays the aging actress Desiree Armfeldt and wonderfly sings the iconic song from the second act “Send In the Clowns”. Ziemba is what makes this show, she is the heart of this story and it's a pleasure to see her perform this lead role. She easily wins over the audience each night as our beloved hero. Also noted is Justin Scott Brown as Frederik, the horny son making friends with most of the female leads, he is the one male featured player who clearly carries the role well.

 The wonderful senior in the cast Dana Lvey, plays the dry wit jaded grandmother, Madame Leonora Armfeldt and she is terrific performing “Liaisons”. Marissa McGowan plays the maid Petra, and her “The Miller’s Son” is impressive if not a sure show stopper. As for the songs - “Clowns” maybe the icon but I enjoyed the final song of the first act “A Weekend in the Country” featuring the entire cast.

 The production team for this ACT event includes Riccardo Hernandez beautiful set based on simple chandeliers and drops. Warm summer lighting and visuals by designer Robert Wiertzel. Sound by Kevin Kenney, and choreography by Val Caniparoli with waltz after waltz, including entrances and exits. The costumes upstage some of the visual but the women gowns are brilliant and designed by Candice Donnelly. Music director Jonathan Tunick as his orchesta tucked back stage, and is impressive. The chours does not get mentioned in the main playbill, but local Andres Ramirez is a class act along with the whole dance team. 

I agree this spring and summer has been an outstanding season for well produced plays and musicals.  A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC is on my top 10 for this season and I hope you find a way to see this. Its not priced much different from the many regional ticket prices in the bay area. Goldstar is a sure bet to see this American icon for a bit more than the cost of a movie ticket. It has been extended to June 21.  Don’t miss this gorgeous show.

 

 

'A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC'

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler,

presented by American Conservatory Theater

Directed by Mark Lamos

Through: June 21

Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes, one intermission

Where: Geary Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco

Tickets: $20-$140; 415-439-2228

www.act-sf.org

 

 

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