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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Theatre review: A Little Night Music hits all the right notes

Sophisticated bedroom farce benefits from a superb orchestra and some fine performances

In the Patrick Street Productions presentation of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, the music is not so little. It is absolutely grand.

No better example, and they are numerous in this production, is in Sondheim’s overture where a quintet of actors enter to tune their vocal instruments. Accompanied by the superb six piece orchestra floating upstage, it is breathtaking in both its simplicity as it begins, and in its complexity as the warm-up vocalizations give way to fragments of future songs.

Inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s 1955 comedy film Smiles of a Summer Night, A Little Night Music is a sophisticated bedroom farce where the genre’s requisite slamming doors, in this production at least, are replaced by a series of sheer curtains. Sub-titled “Love and Desire in Three-Quarter Time” it follows a series of pairings and re-pairings of some of Sweden’s elite at the turn-of-the-century.

While the music is the thing and the ensemble is up to its challenges, it is the orchestra under the direction of musical director Sean Bayntun who are the stars of this production. With Bayntun on piano, he is joined by Sarah Ho (violin), Albertina Chan (harp), Laine Longton (Cello), Yukari Mametsuka (clarinet) and Alli Tipan (flute). It is tough not to resist the temptation to close your eyes and soak in their sound.

But while the sextet of musicians are to be celebrated, there are also some equally fine performances happening downstage as veteran performers Warren Kimmel, Katey Wright and Patti Allan are joined by a sea of younger talent.

Kimmel lends his beautiful baritone to Fredrik who is experiencing a turn-of-the-century mid-life crisis by marrying a women more than half his age. Wright hits all the right notes as actress Desiree Armfeldt, including another of the evening’s musical pleasures in a heartfelt rendition of Sondheim’s most recognizable songs, Send in the Clowns.

Allan captures the haughty Madame Armfeldt, dropping small bon mots of life advice to Desiree’s daughter and some hilariously cutting commentary. Nick Fontaine makes the most of the philandering Count Malcolm, and Arinea Hermans’ voice soars as the virgin bride. Elizabeth Irving is delightful as Desiree’s daughter.

Even as Caleb Di Pomponio steps to the line of silliness at times as the young seminarian Henrik, his boyish charm and suppressed sexuality will have you rooting for him as he goes about wooing his father’s wife. Rose McNeil simply devours the maid Petra, culminating in a wonderful “The Miller’s Son”. The cast is supported by Jacob Woike, Michael Querin and Lyndsey Britten.

It is Lindsay Warnock as the Countess Malcolm though who is most memorable. Warnock’s voice is not only superb, her portrayal of the long-suffering wife to her unfaithful husband was simply sublime. Easily dealing with the humour permeating Hugh Wheeler’s book, she balances it all with a sad resignation.

With the music so important to this production the decision to go “acoustic”, as director Peter Jorgensen stated at the top of the show, is a blessing and a curse.  While it allows Sondheim’s exquisite music to be heard in its purest form, there were some issues where lyrics were lost. Both “The Glamorous Life” and “Liaisons” were virtually unintelligible.

Alan Brodie’s simple set incorporates the rather noisy curtains helping transitions and delineating scenes. Their sheer nature also provides Jorgensen a window into revealing character reactions. Brodie lights it all in a warm glow. Jessica Bayntun has fun with pops of colour in her costumes, and in making the turn-of-the-century undergarments seem sexy.

Clocking in at three hours including intermission, the production does drag at times, especially in its first act. Thankfully there enough bright moments in the music, and a superior act two, making it a worthwhile trek to New West.

A Little Night Music with music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler. Suggested by a film by Ingmar Bergman. Directed by Peter Jorgensen. A Patrick Street Productions presentation on stage at the Anvil Centre (777 Columbia St, New Westminster) until May 21. Visit for tickets and information.

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