Lopsided Love Stories: “A Little Night Music”

by N.L. Thi-Hamrick on August 5, 2019 in Entertainment, Theatre, Dallas/Fort Worth,
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Theatre Frisco presents a story of attraction, affairs and, inevitably, sex.

“A Little Night Music,” though recipient of four Tony Awards, is a lesser-known piece by the celebrated Stephen Sondheim. The decorated composer is considered a juggernaut of Broadway, having written the lyrics for “West Side Story” and words and music for “Sweeney Todd” among others. Sondheim’s intricate and clever phrasing drives storylines, complementing equally dramatic moments. This North Texas production is no exception, brimming with subtle innuendos and quick-witted humor interlaced throughout. The compelling piece suffused with comedy, furnished with lovely melody, and complete with some truly standout moments, begins slowly, but gains steam by the second act, culminating in a riotous finale and poignant climax.

Photo Alex Rain

This offbeat tale, director Neale Whitmore has called it “a love triangle cubed,” is based on the edgy 1955 comedy film “Smiles of a Summer Night,” in turn inspired by the book by Hugh Wheeler. Swedish director Ingmar Bergman gained international attention with this cinematic adventure, which follows a quartet of eccentric characters testing the laws of attraction. In the heat of a Swedish summer—in some parts of the country the sun never sets—is said to cultivate the perfect environment for lunacy. Especially when the troop decides to spend a night together in the country. Thus, through playful antics and intrepid navigation, the ensemble is abuzz with uninhibited flirtation, and as rambunctious as fireflies at twilight.

Indeed, we’re eager voyeurs, peeking into the lives of newlyweds—the virginal, teenaged bride, Anne Egerman (Rae Hillman), and her older husband, Fredrik Egerman (John Wenzel). Among others, we meet a young aspiring seminary student, only a year older than his new stepmother, a haughty officer with a perversely large ego, his worn-out wife, and—the epicenter of the tangled love affairs—seasoned actress Desiree Armfeldt, played by the magnetic Karen Raehpour.

Photo Alex Rain

Fortunately for us, Raehpour decided to return to the theater recently. She illuminates the stage with her emotional, tearful rendition of “Send in the Clowns,” the hit ballad whose fame often precedes the play. You feel her anguish, frustration and lamenting surrender. No chord or note is over-sung, a true feat in such a demanding dynamo of a song, which leaves you spellbound. At its apex, the audience was left in reverent silence, broken only by applause.

Threatening to steal the show, Andi Allen, playing Countess Charlotte, has impeccable comedic timing with perfect deadpan delivery. A fellow Firehouse Theatre veteran Gabriel Ethridge (Mr. Linquist), also making his debut with Theatre Frisco, shines in the play’s powerhouse quintet that often provides harmonies so velvety and luscious it’s a musical force in and of itself. In fact, as drama escalates on stage, accelerating the pace before intermission, the entire ensemble lends their vocals to a refreshing, melodious summit which springboards the storyline into the more riveting second act.

Photo Alex Rain

Robin Clayton, playing the enigmatic maid, Petra, showcases her clear, tinkling voice, in an exceptional number featuring an overlay of delicate political commentary. While she languishes in a gazebo, staring indulgently at the manservant she’s just bedded, she muses aloud who she may one day marry, asserting, “In the meantime, there are mouths to be missed before mouths to be fed…and a girl ought to celebrate what passes by.”

Just as engaging, we have the endearingly tense rivalry between Count Carl-Magnus (M. Shane Hurst) and Fredrik Egerman. The audience is treated to their comically heated interactions as they contend for Ms. Armfelt’s love. The ironically-suited duo creates a truly memorable piece, “It Would have been Wonderful,” calling to mind the similarly inspired and equally humorous ballad “Agony” from “Into The Woods,” another Sondheim classic. The two men address each other stonily as ‘sir,’ before finding a unifying fellowship as they sing in tandem, “it would have been wonderful” had their mistress been ‘faded…fat…jaded…and bursting with chat,’ as she may have been easier to resist.

Photo Alex Rain

Amid a story of lopsided relationships, the politics of gender roles and morality behind attraction isn’t analyzed nor excused. We are given an evocative story; the messages we determine for ourselves. The cynicism with the naivety, the regret with the triumph, all paint a satisfying dissonance of emotions emblematic of theater itself.

Genius lyrics, hilarious reprieves and some truly moving performances from a talented cast and team make “A Little Night Music” a great addition to a theater-buff’s repertoire that’s already creating buzz, including a promo on WFAA-TV, interviewing lead songbirds Raehpour and Hillman. Additionally, the Black Box Theatre, housed in the hopping Frisco Discovery Center, is neighbor to the exciting National Videogame Museum, Sci-Tech Discovery Center and vast exhibitions of the Frisco Art Gallery among other attractions, making this the perfect destination for a fun-packed and highly entertaining event!

“A Little Night Music” plays through August 11th, with performances Friday and Saturday night at 8:00 pm and 2:30 pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets start at $15, and have already begun to sell out for some performances, so purchase yours online or call 972.370.2266. And, see what Theatre Frisco has coming up!

Cover photo Alex Rain

N.L.Thi-Hamrick is devoted to all things that bring joy: good food, writing freely, lots of smiles, and pursuing things that make you feel worthwhile.