A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC
Fabulous show, excellent voices, wonderfully clever songs, and overall mirth. I am so thrilled to be able to finally write a really good review again. The Pasadena Playhouse definitely does this classic musical justice.
A Little Night Music is one of the only two Stephen Sondheim works I have ever loved! (The other is West Side Story, despite being far from an upper.) Perhaps that’s because my parents took me to see it on Broadway when I was young, and one of my all-time favorite actresses, Glynis Johns, was the star. (She’s actually the person for whom Sondheim wrote the iconic Send in the Clowns!) I’ve been a fan of the show ever since. (You should find her version of it on-line—it will break your heart.)
And then in 1991, at a theatre here in town, I was lucky enough to see Ms. Johns again in this show, that time as the mother of the main character. (At the end of this review, I’ll tell you my favorite heart-warming-and-breaking story of that opening night. That one tiny sighting affected me more than anything else I’ve ever seen in a theatre.)
And so, with such a love and reverence for this musical, that I enjoyed this revival at the Pasadena Playhouse so much is quite the testament to it. I didn’t pause to compare it even once to the other productions that my younger self saw; it stands on its own.
On a related note, my friend who joined me on opening night, Nina, (who works in musical theater herself,) had seen A Little Night Music on Broadway in recent years, when it starred Bernadette Peters and Angela Lansbury; you cannot do better than that cast in the musical theater. Nina acknowledged that to me, but she said that despite the impossible-to-live-up-to comparisons, she really also loved this production. That is high praise indeed!
So let me list some of the reasons we enjoyed this show so much. First of all, it has zero negatives!!! How often does that happen?!
The story itself, (of the romantic interactions of several couples in turn-of-the-last-century Sweden,) is very amusing, and this cast handles all the inanity with aplomb. Each actor and actress is spot-on. And the five-person “chorus,” whose interstitial singing entertains throughout, all have incredibly excellent operatic voices, none more so than Georgia Belmont; the audience oohed and aahed with her every note.
I especially liked that all of Sondheim’s clever lyrics can be understood, even from very far back in the theatre. That’s a rarity.
The whole presentation is marvelous, but for me, it really comes to life when Ryan Silverman, as the buffoon-ish Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, appears. The whole scenario commanded more of my attention from that moment on.
The first act ends with the fabulous and catchy A Weekend in the Country. (I haven’t been able to stop singing it in my head since the opening!) And Act II continues on that mirthful track.
The story is one of those old-fashioned tales of misplaced romantic love, and it’s actually a pleasure to see in these days when every musical tries to be more different or hip or modern than the next. A Little Night Music is a little bit of a complicated-yet-easy-to-follow story, so some attention is needed. My mind actually wandered a time or two because I have so much on it nowadays, but the action or wonderful singing voices or hearing the laughter of my fellow audience members brought me right back to the stage each time.
During the show, none of the actors seemed familiar to me, (with their wigs and costumes on,) which I always find to be a positive; this way, I perceive them as just their characters, with no preconceived notions. And they were all excellent.
But when I read my program after the show, I realized that I had actually seen some of the cast members’ work before! I had given a rave review to audience favorite Ruby Lewis back in 2014 when she starred in We Will Rock You at the Ahmanson. (I saw her in the best Broadway production ever, Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour, as well.) And I also appreciated this very Playhouse’s Kiss Me Kate that same year, which featured Merle Dandridge, who stars once again here in A Little Night Music. Many of the actors also have extensive TV credits, but, alas, most on shows I’ve never seen, (only because I watch mainly sports.)
A splendid surprise for the audience happens at the beginning of Act II; it’s the sudden appearance of the orchestra behind a lit scrim. And the later discovery that the musicians are equally credited to the actors in the program made my heart sing. It’s about time those artists get their due recognition.
As far as the simple utilitarian set by Wilson Chin goes, there is one teeny part of it that became my favorite bit of set design ever! I don’t want to ruin it for you, so let me just tell you that I downright guffawed at some miniatures in the second half. Their appearance is brief, so keep your eyes open at all times, especially near the beginning of that act.
I also loved the beautiful piano off to the side, but in full view the entire time. The interior of the underside of the top is especially attractive. It’s such a special set piece that I was able to admire all that artistry even though I was sitting way in the back of the theatre!
On a personal note, (have you met me?,) I got a big kick out of the young wife asking one of the males to zip her up when she changed dresses. And that’s because…those were my first words ever to Mr. X way back in the day! And it was in a period piece costume, as well. He was starring in a show I had just seen, and by an odd turn of events, the very next night I was making a cameo in it! And all these years later, look at how it’s worked-out for us! (You’ll have to see the show, though, to find-out the fate of those two characters.)
So whether A Little Night Music gives you you own fond memory or not, it’s a fabulous show that no one in SoCal should miss! Quite honestly, I could see it again, which is rare. But we all need to hurry because it’s here until the end of the month only.
A Little Night Music running through May 28, 202
Pasadena Playhouse 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena
Okay, here’s that story that I think of every time I hear of this show. When A Little Night Music was produced in Los Angeles at the Doolittle Theater in 1991, it was supposed to star Lee Remick in the main role. But she got really sick with cancer, so she had to drop out, and was replaced with Lois Nettleton. I knew that Lee was really sick, so I was shocked to see her there on opening night.
I was lucky enough to be seated right across the aisle from her. I heard her laugh sweetly all night, and every time I looked across she was smiling. She actually looked like an angel.
At the curtain, Lee was the first one to stand up to lead the standing ovation. I couldn’t help sneaking another peek at her, and there was positively a glow emanating from her. I just started bawling hysterically at her beauty, not just physically, but as a person. I’m even crying just writing this right now. I have never seen a person with such an absence of jealousy.
And then, tragically, Lee Remick was gone from this level of life a mere three months later. But that one experience warms my heart every time I see or hear her name.
I’ve found you to be the only real honest critic, so I’m trusting you on this one, too.
And that’s an emotional story at the end. I’ve seen most of Miss Remick’s old films, so I love knowing this story about her last days. It’s classic Karen to share it. Thank you.