“Musicals continue to be the only art form, popular or otherwise, that is publicly criticized by illiterates.” That comment by composer Stephen Sondheim certainly hits close to home, however I’m forced to agree with him. Most theater critics, myself included, don’t have the musical training to be qualified to render fully informed judgment on these works.
And yet, here we are. Fortunately for me, ever since I began reviewing shows about 20 years ago, Martin Friedman has been directing musicals at Lakeland Civic Theatre. And that has made my job both more enjoyable and easier, since his unabashed love for the “art form” and his scrupulous attention to detail in rendering Sondheim’s glorious ouvre, often carries the day.
This is happily the case with Lakeland’s current production of A Little Night Music, the elegant and droll musical with music and lyrics by Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler. Based on Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night, this show is the rare example of a Sondheim show with a happy ending.
From the vocal overture sung by a five-person chorus to that rom-com conclusion, this production directed by Friedman (his 50th at this theater!) is a nearly constant delight. Without going into details over which I have no firm grasp, suffice to say that Sondheim’s waltz-inspired music is an auditory feast. And thanks to Jordan Cooper’s sensitive musical direction, the dozen musicians in the orchestra perform most admirably.
For a show about love and flirtation at the turn of the 20th century in Sweden, Night Music feels remarkably contemporary and witty. As the characters jockey for position emotionally, and frequently amusingly, the music envelops their efforts in a cloud of effortless pleasure.
Friedman has assembled a most talented cast for this second staging of ALNM during his tenure. As Fredrik, the middle-age man who is married to the jejune 18-year-old virgin Anne, Rob Albrecht is a bundle of confusion as he tries to plan an amorous foray with the youngster by reading something to her (“De Maupassant’s candor/Would cause her dismay/The Brontes are grander/ But not very gay/Her taste is much blander/I’m sorry to say/But is Hans Christian Andersen/Ever risqué?”)
Anne is, as promised, a gaggle of squeals and giggles, and Sarah Clare is both charming and irritating, as she should be. Meanwhile, Fredrik’s intense son Henrik (an excellent Eric Fancher) is longing for Anne and waiting agonizingly for his life to begin.
Much of the drama swirls around Desiree Armfeldt, a renowned actress and Fredrik’s former lover. Trinidad Snider has a deft touch with this woman whose sardonic take on life eventually results in the hit song, “Send in the Clowns.” Snider makes that familiar tune ache with longing, eschewing the drier and more world weary tone that most singers employ.
Adding immensely to the enjoyment are Ian Atwood as the pompous Count Carl-Magnus, Neely Gevaart as his ever-snarky wife Charlotte, and Mim Goloboff in the role of Desiree’s mother Madame Armfeldt, the matriarch of her family who is also possessed of a sharp tongue.
A Little Night Music is a richly satisfying production, and a fitting marker of Friedman’s ever-building legacy at Lakeland. May the music play on, for us illiterates and others, for a long time.
A Little Night Music
Through September 30 at Lakeland Civic Theatre, 7700 Clocktower Dr., Kirtland, 440-525-7134, lakelandcc.edu.