A Little Night Music seems to be a less-produced show of Stephen Sondheim’s, possibly because of the size of the cast or the set requirements. Good for the RPI Players – taking on such a huge production was a brave endeavor.
Middle-aged Frederik (Kyle Johnson) has recently married young, virginal Anne (Cassie Corey); his son, Henrik (Matt Fields) loves her as well. Frederik runs into his ex-lover Desiree (Hannah De Los Santos), a free-spirited actress; seeing her again, although he is happy with Anne and Desiree is in a relationship with another married man, Carl-Magnus (Nicolas Robinson), stirs up old feelings for both of them. Desiree invites Frederik and his family to her mother’s country estate for the weekend, hoping to lure him away from his wife for good, and couples begin to pair off away from the city’s confines.
If you know Sondheim’s style of music and lyrics, you know he’s not for amateurs; some performers were more successful than others in this production. The orchestra is directly in front of the stage, so even though the performers are miked, it was often hard to hear the lyrics of the songs over the music. Diction and pronunciation were also an issue, especially in duets or trios; it was difficult to hear individual singers. There was a chorus giving almost a running commentary, and I was only able to hear a handful of their interludes clearly at all, lyrics-wise; I honestly wasn’t aware for some time what their purpose was because of this issue.
De Los Santos, who was also quite strong in last year’s Arcadia at the Playhouse, was well-chosen as Desiree; her “Send in the Clowns,” always a highlight of the show, was touching and brave, and her interactions with both Johnson and Robinson, as well as with Corey and Claudia Howes, who played Charlotte, Carl-Magnus’s wife, were some of the best moments of the evening. Speaking of Howes, her character was a joy; sarcastic one moment, heartbroken the next, but always a treat. Emily Fernandes, as Petra, Anne’s maid, utterly stole the show; her energy and life just burst from the stage, and her “The Miller’s Son” was brilliant, bright and electric.
The show itself is much too long, through no fault of the group; there are unnecessary songs (and roles), and I have to wonder if Sondheim had worked on this show later in his career he would have made different choices. The core story is interesting and touching, if a bit dated (it’s set in the early 1900s, so we’ll forgive – if we must – the middle-aged man who married a girl who grew up calling him “Uncle” Frederik and the man who “had to knock a little sense into his wife.”)
It’s a rocky production, with some performances that stand head and shoulders above the rest; however, the odds you’ll see this particular show of Sondheim’s are slim, and if you love his work like I do, you’ll want to see it when it’s available to you.
“A Little Night Music”; RPI Players; RPI, 110 8th St., Troy; through April 28; $15-$5; Run time: 2 hours and 40 minutes with a 15-minute intermission; 518-276-6503; http://players.rpi.edu/index.html