Review by Danny Gaisin
It is a theatre tradition that harks back to vaudeville and travelling circus tents, that when ‘S*#t’ happens on stage or in the center ring; the director orders – “Send in the clowns”. Stephen Sondheim’s period piece about love; liaisons; familial relationships and convoluted interaction is a perfect vehicle for Stratford’s extensive reservoir of turn-of-the century costumes. Wardrobe honcho Bradley Dalcourt holds nothing back. Same can’t be said for director Gary Griffin; one gets the feeling that he strictly adhered to the Broadway & Hollywood predecessor versions.
Sondheim’s score incorporates many classical music formats, he also plagiarizes some of his and the play’s arias. Did I mention that A Little Night Music is operatic in form? The 18th variation of Rachmaninoff’s take on a Paganini theme (also stolen for a movie and pop song) appears as do gigue and Chopinesque polonaises. He also takes a page from the Gordon Lightfoot School of composition – repeat, repeat, repeat – notation and especially lyrics. Think of Sweeney Todd but instead of Johanna Johanna Johanna ad infinitum, we have ‘La La La’ – no kidding.
The plot centers on the relationship between Fredrik Egerman emotionally portrayed by Ben Carlson who in spite of having a too-young new wife (Alexis Gordon) is still enamoured with actress Desirée Armfeldt, played to the hilt by Yanna Mcintosh. She’s also involved with married Count Malcolm hammily overacted by Juan Chioran. The Armfeldt mater-familias is Rosemary Dunsmore and her romantic reminiscences make all of us jealous! The secondary involvements concern Egerman’s son Henrik played by thespian envelope-pushing Gabriel Antonacci. His sexual inexperience seems totally unconvincing even given the time frame and social period.
The relationship between maid Sara Farb and her beau Matt Alfano is more credible as is the portrayal of Desiree’s daughter Kimberly-Ann Truong whose character name is Fredrika (subtle hint as to her parentage). Unsubtleties abound. The count’s long-suffering wife is Cynthia Dale and she’s still able to steal scenes with almost no effort. Her duet with Alexis Gordon playing Egerman’s wife, is titled ‘Every Day a little death’ and its an emotional moment that reverberates. Like the “It would have been Wonderful” & “You must meet my wife” numbers, all have messages of pathos and irony.
When McIntosh soliloquies the ‘Send in the Clowns’ number, she imbues the piece with such emotion that the audience seems too mesmerized to break the silence with applause. It is a poignant yet paradoxical moment. She reiterates the song as a duet with Carlson and that presentation plus the outstanding costumes make Night Music worthwhile.
Like a Webber effort, there are reprises after reprises (think EVITA!) and a slow-tempo’ed plot progression, even with the quintet keeping the continuity flowing. Still, the staging and character interpretations make seeing this offering worthwhile. And fortunately , when things begin to slip; director Griffin has the cast – Send in the clowns!
A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC is at The Avon theatre until Oct. 21st. Just don’t come expecting any Eine Kleine Nachmusik.