City Theater Company Offers A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC

by David Bradford

The cast of City Theater Company's A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC running in Wilmington DE through December 17.

Opening night of City Theater Company’s production of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC was a complete sell-out.  It is easy to understand why.  Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s musical, inspired by the movie “Smiles of a Summer Night, written and directed by Ingmar Bergman , is a collection of wonderful songs linked together by a plot that flirts with farce.  It primarily focuses on two families, the Armfeldts and the Egermans, and what happens when their paths cross….again.  Let’s just say the show is about lost loves, loves lost, loves found, loves discovered, and loves rediscovered. Did I mention that love may be one of the show’s themes?

City Theater Company’s production, being held in The Black Box at OperaDelaware on the Wilmington Riverfront, is an intimate affair. The four-row, 100-seat set up includes a simple, but functional set and a nine-piece orchestra (which is mostly hidden from view).  Music is the main focus of this show and City Theater Company does not disappoint.

We are first greeted by the five member chorus comprised of Brian B. Carter, Leslie Green Shapiro, Ruth Bailis, Troy A. Sheaffer and Jessica Graae.  They serve as talented musical commentators throughout the show, often giving voice to the thoughts of the main characters.  Their vocal blends are wonderful and their integration into the show is seemless. They easily fade into the background of the scene, even while in plain sight.

The Armfeldt family is made up of family matriarch Madame Armfeldt (Mary Catherine Kelley), a wise and experienced woman living out her years in style at the family estate with her granddaughter Fredrika (Jenna Sharples).  Ms. Kelly is strong and funny in the role. Ms. Sharples, the youngest of the actors on stage, holds her own quite admirably among this group of experienced talent.

Fredrika’s mother, Desiree (Karen Murdock), is a famous actress whose career is now reduced to touring small venues.  She doesn’t get to see her daughter much and is tiring of being on the road. Desiree, figures quite prominently into the plot and also gets the show’s most famous piece, “Send in the Clowns”.   Ms. Murdock’s performance of this song alone is worth the price of admission!  I don’t think I have ever seen a song performed in which every single word was uniquely emotionally crafted.  The emotional plot one usually draws from an entire show, could be drawn from each individual line.  Amazing work! This song is the absolute highlight of the show!

The Egerman family is led by widower, and recently remarried, Fredrik (Michael Gray). He is haunted by a past lover and torn over issues with his new, 18 year-old trophy wife, Anne (Dylan Geringer).  Mr. Gray has wonderful vocals (which can be said of every single member of the cast), but he also brings a very real accessibility to the character which allows us to fully understand his conflict.  Ms. Geringer handles the “silly” wife role just fine yet shows her versatility in bringing a real soberness to the role in the few instances it is called for. It is especially challenging dealing with her socially inept son-in-law Henrik (Ryan P. Townsend) ,  a conflicted priesthood candidate one year her senior.  Mr. Townsend weaves together a very complicated character as Henrik, a boy who sees things for what they are.

Other supporting cast members include Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Dorien Belle) and his wife Charlotte (Victoria Healy), the Egerman’s maid Petra (Casey Elizabeth Gill) and Madame Armfeldt’s servant Frid (Troy A. Sheaffer).  Mr. Belle played his pompousness and bravado well. Ms. Healy brought the pained Charlotte to life, and Ms. Gill was quite entertaining, especially in her solo piece, “The Miller’s Son”.

My only concern with this show centers around its period setting. Though the program indicates we are in Sweden at the “turn of the century”, this is not really reflected in the costumes and in some cases, the characterizations. While some of the costumes may hint at that time, others look more appropriate to the 30’s, some the 80’s, and some even hint toward today. Some of the characters like Madame Armfeldt could very well be from that time, but Anne and Petra could be two teenagers of today.  As I write this though, I am wondering if that may be by design. After all, the time period is “turn of the century”….but it did not necessarily say which century.  I think that Directors Michael Gray & Tom Shade may be attempting to allow the audience to ascribe the time period with which it can most identify. Perhaps that is why we connect with the characters so well.

Sondheim’s music is often an acquired taste. As such, some may not find A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC to be their cup of tea. However, there is no doubt about the tremendous effort, skill, and talent that City Theater Company is putting into this production.  Those that do appreciate Sondheim’s work will simply love this production.  The blending harmonies, intricate musical textures and creative plot, offer up a wonderful evening of entertainment.  Besides, you don’t want to miss “Send in the Clowns”!

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler
Directed by Michael Gray & Tom Shade
Musical Direction by Michele Ferdinand
Choreography by Dawn Morningstar
December 2 – 17, 2011
City Theater Company
The Black Box at OperaDelaware
4 S. Poplar St.
Wilmington, DE 19801

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