BrightSide Theatre brings to stage an absolutely beautiful production of Sondheim’s classic, “A Little Night Music.” First produced on Broadway in 1973, the musical is best known for its melancholy “Send In The Clowns” (recorded first by Frank Sinatra and later by Judy Collins). With the exception of that song, however, the musical, like much of Sondheim’s offerings, is more a lyrical enchantment than it is a vehicle for breakout numbers. The music, in fact, is so grounded in the plot and the character development that it can only achieve its maximum glory onstage.
Set in Sweden at the beginning of the twentieth century, “A Little Night Music,” inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s 1955 “Smiles of a Summer Night,” presents a host of characters fated to suffer the whims of love. This love, as prophesied by the wise Madame Armfeldt, will first smile upon the young, then on fools, before finally settling its sight on the old. Narrated in large part by an onstage chorus, the plot shifts between mismatched couples certain to be reset before the summer is through. The two principal pairs are an aging lawyer and his still very-much-a-virgin younger wife as well as a fading actress and her possessive married boyfriend. Overlapping these orbits are the lawyer’s younger son and a pair of jealous wives.
An intimate production, the action is enveloped nicely by the orchestra, with well-timed swells that add another dimension. The action is also nicely directed by Jeffrey Cass with the deliberate pacing capturing the magic of a fleeting Scandinavian season. But what sets this production apart is the incredible vocal talent of the cast members who project Sondheim’s sweeping lyrics. Especially impressive is Jon Cunningham as Fredrik Egerman whose tired state at the beginning of the play (when he chooses taking a nap over trying to seduce his much younger wife) contrasts with his later reenergized self. Carol Brown also turns in an especially powerful performance as the elderly Madame Armfeldt, whose insights and laments are a constant reminder that summer is not forever.
As is true for many of Sondheim’s musicals, love is not blind. Instead it is an insidious bastard determined to remake relationships as it sees fit. This destructive pathway also allows for key insight into the human condition. BrightSide Theatre’s masterful production is cognizant of this, and is a wonderful tribute to Sondheim’s legacy. It’s very much worth the drive to Naperville.
On stage at BrightSide Theatre, 31 South Ellsworth, Naperville, through November 5. Tickets are $40 ($35 for students and seniors), at brightsidetheatre.com.