Karole Foreman and Sean Murray in "A Little Night Music." Photograph by Daren Scott
For those hopeless romantics who’ve dreamed of waltzing seemingly without end, there is A Little Night Music. Stephen Sondheim’s 1973 musical (with a book by Hugh Wheeler and based on the 1955 Ingmar Bergman film “Smiles of a Summer Night”) is composed largely in three-quarter time. The story’s players at love and longing exist in a world in which there is a rhythm to life, not only to its acquiescence to growing older but its youthful pursuit of the embraceable.
Artistic Director Sean Murray’s first production when his formerly Rolando-based Cygnet Theatre moved into its Old Town space 10 years ago was A Little Night Music. Coming full circle, Cygnet is again staging Sondheim’s musically complex work, with Murray directing and once more occupying the principal male role of Frederik Egerman. Karole Foreman, last seen at Cygnet in 2016’s Stupid F—king Bird, is faded performer Desiree Armfeldt, the true love of Frederik’s life.
A Little Night Music is best known for “Send in the Clowns,” arguably the most poignant song Sondheim has written. Its performance – by Foreman midway through Act II, then later reprised in a tender exchange between Foreman and Murray – is indeed the high point of a score that is by turns studied and operatic. The elaborate ensemble numbers, including the opening “Night Waltz” and the first-act-culminating “A Weekend in the Country” are more reflective of the show’s tonality.
Murray has enlisted a prodigious cast. Standout performances are delivered by Sandy Campbell as the wry spouse of a foppish, philandering dragoon (David S. Humphrey), by Anise Ritchie as Desiree’s mother with a past, and by Murray himself, perhaps picking up where he left off a decade ago.
This is a lengthy show (should it have been “A Lot of Night Music”?), and its second act, when all the lovers and schemers congregate for that titular weekend in the country, boasts the majority of the memorable sequences. A Little Night Music is elegantly costumed (by Jeanne Reith) and choreographed (by David Brannen), however, and like Shakespeare’s enchanted forest trifles, it is charming from start to finish. (Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 3/14/18.)
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.