When Stephen Sondheim (from the book by Hugh Wheeler) opened “A Little Night Music” on Broadway in 1973, it was a time when cynicism about relationships was at an all-time high. In the 70s we asked the question, “Do you know any couple who is really happy?” We seized on a moment’s hesitation and wagged our heads knowingly. “See what I mean?” “A Little Night Music” tells the story of couples whose relationships are, to put it mildly, in flux. As the storyline moves along, the waltz of relationship becomes ever more intricate. “Do you know any couples who are happy?” That’s what Director John Munn, musical director Deborah Lynn Armstrong, and choreographer Lexi Barnett try to find out over the course of 2.5 hours at the theatre.
Fredrik Egerman has it all. Wealth, prestige, looks, and a trophy wife to call his very own. But, something is missing. Oh yes, his wife of 11 months is still a virgin! Local favorite Jonathan Bill plays Fredrik and no one in the South Sound is any better suited for the role. Mr. Bill portrays “dashing” as well as anyone in town, and has the vocal chops to carry the musical parts. As Fredrik he manages to elicit a measure of sympathy from the audience even as he commits joyful adultery (That’s the worst kind.) In this day and age, that is not an easy tightrope to walk, but Jonathan Bill is more than up to the task. Singer? Check. Comedy? Check. Wearer of formal attire? Check, check.
Who is the recipient of Fredrik Egerman’s lusty advances? Why, that would be actress Desiree Armfeldt, with whom Fredrik spent amorous time with earlier in life. Casi Pruitt plays Desiree, and does it very well. Desiree knows that the end of her popularity is beginning to loom and (like all of us) resents it a bit. One more time around the block with Henrik? This time doing it right? That sounds like a plan. Casi Pruitt’s performance is nuanced in a show where most of the action is more overt. Well played.
Anne Egerman is Fredrik’s wife. Besides holding on to her virtue with all of her might, she’s trying to keep Desiree from landing beneath her husband. Anne turns to her stepson for supportive conversation, and finds a kindred spirit. Young Juliet Hollifield plays Anne and is more than up to the task. Carrying the best singing voice in the cast, Ms. Hollifield’s range goes beyond vocalization to her acting skills. This is her TLT debut, but it ought not be her last time on these boards.
Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm has a unique perspective on life and relationships. He can tolerate it if his wife steps out on him. But, he cannot tolerate his mistress straying. Jamey Cheek plays the Count at top bombast! He’s very good at stage bluster, and is obviously having a wonderful time in this show.
The youngest and oldest members of the cast work splendidly together. That would be Juliana Guzman-Ferreira as Fredrika, and Rosalie Hilburn as Madame Armfeldt. Young Juliana is delightful in this, her second mainstage appearance and her debut on the Tacoma Little Theatre mainstage. Ms. Hilburn spouts wisdom and gently guided her young charge the one time a cue was missed. Two ladies, at either end of their careers, working as one unit. It was a beautiful thing.
One would imagine that a director sleeps best when he/she knows that they cast well. Certainly Director Munn knew he had cast well in this show, but he must know that his choice of Will Johnson as Henrik Egerman was genius! A young seminarian, tortured by ecclesiastical guilt, yet ravaged by a lust he feels is impure? How much meat on the bone can there be? Mr. Johnson navigates the role with an intensity just short of mania! He’s a high point in a show with more than a few peaks.
Another first-timer to this stage is Hayley Ewerz in the role of Petra. It is a smaller role than some of the others, but each time Ms. Ewerz is on stage she is value added. One can easily see the talent in this performer.
Though there is no narrator, per se, the action in “A Little Night Music” is narrated by a group of singers who guide us along the way. Charles “Chap” Wolff, Caryl Dowd, Heidi Walwoth-Horn, Erik Davis, and Kira Leigh Vega make up the chorus of singers and dancers. They’re excellent, throughout.
A note or two about the crew who helped put this show together. Set designer Blake York always has a talented staff working under his expert direction. Their set was a character unto itself in this show. Madame Armfeldt said “the night smiled,” and it seemed to do that very thing as the stars showed through the birch trees. Costumer Michele Graves is a local legend in the world of dressing actors. The costumes, portraying the turn of the 20th Century, were fantastic.
Finally, there can be no discussion of “Night Music” without acknowledging the music itself. We already mentioned Deborah Lynn Armstrong who was in charge of the musicians. They were incredible without being intrusive. Good work throughout the orchestral presence.
“Classic” is a term thrown about too much. It can describe anything from a ’52 Stutz Bearcat to blackberry cobbler. But, its an apt expression for this show. It is a classic play with a classic plot, produced on a classic stage in its 100th year. It doesn’t get anymore classic than that. Make plans to celebrate Tacoma Little Theatre’s centennial by attending this show.
“A Little Night Music,” Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 North “I” St, 98403. Fri-Sat 7:30-Sun 2 pm through March 31. Tickets: tix4.centerstageticketing.com/sites/tacomalittletheatre/ Info: tacomalittletheatre.com, or 253-272-2281