Send in the Clowns
by Anthony Chase
A Little Night Music beautifully played at Irish Classical Theatre Company
Elegant and sophisticated adults behaving like children on a Scandinavian night is the set up for A Little Night Music, the musical now being performed by the Irish Classical Theatre Company. Composer Stephen Sondheim has said that when he, book writer Hugh Wheeler, and director Hal Prince staged the original production in 1973, they had one thought on their minds: “A Little Night Music was all about having a hit!”
Sondheim and Prince’s previous Broadway collaboration, the artistically triumphant Follies, co-directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett, had been a box office flop in 1971, despite winning seven Tony Awards.
With A Little Night Music, the team would have their hit, and Sondheim would score the only pop hit of his celebrated career with the Judy Collins recording of “Send in the Clowns,” which won a Grammy as Song of the Year in 1975.
Based on Ingmar Bergman’s 1955 film comedy, Smiles of a Summer Night, the musical tells the story of a middle aged attorney, Fredrik Egerman, married to a teenaged virgin who is reluctant to consummate their marriage. In his frustration, Egerman visits his former lover, Desiree Armfeldt, a famed and glamorous actress, now reduced to touring to minor towns. Sensing that Egerman’s sexless marriage provides an opportunity to reignite her former romance, Desiree asks her mother, the spectacularly wealthy Madame Armfeldt to invite the Egermans to her chateau for a weekend in the country. Complications ensue when Desiree’s current lover, an intensely jealous and not very bright count arrives by surprise, with his wife; and when Fredrik’s grown son, Henrik reveals that he is in love with his young stepmother.
The intertwining complications are hilariously tangled but very easy to follow. The score, comprised entirely of waltzes, is luscious and propelled forward by a chorus of servants who comment on and punctuate the action.
The Irish Classical Theatre production under the direction of Chris Kelly and musical direction of Allan Paglia with choreography by Robert Cooke is entirely delightful—elegant, charming, and wonderfully humorous at every turn.
The cast is uniformly appealing. Matt Witten, as Fredrik Egerman is the rock that serves as a solid foundation for the production. He sings beautifully. His acting is, as ever, perfection. As Desiree Armfeldt, Jenn Stafford has a genius for making audiences fall in love with her. She, too, possesses a lovely singing voice which she deploys for maximum emotional and comic impact on this occasion. These two singing, “You Must Meet My Wife” is a highlight among many highlights.
Michele Benzin is particularly satisfying, giving one of her finest performances ever as Countess Charlotte Malcolm, a woman who cannot help but love her louse of a husband. When the frustrated spouses, Witten as Fredrik and Benzin are Charlotte are paired, the chemistry is hysterical.
Pamela Rose Mangus is surprisingly good as Madame Armfeldt, a role for which she is too young, but which she assays, nonetheless with expert finesse and perfect comic timing. She is particularly adept at landing the grand old lady’s withering one-liners.
As jealous and conceited Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, Anthony Alcocer—who specializes in cartoons of the irredeemably evil and the cluelessly arrogant—easily reaches into the latter bag of tricks on this occasion, resurrecting some of the crowd-pleasing antics of his similarly clueless Aldolpho from last year’s The Drowsy Chaperone.
Renee Landrigan and Ben Caldwell are very enjoyable and appealing paired as young and inexperienced Anne and Henrik. Young Faith Walh acquits herself capably as Desiree’s daughter, Fredrika Armfeldt.
Amy Jakiel gives a strong and lusty performance as the knowing and determined maid, Petra, landing “The Miller’s Son,” an anthem to personal fulfillment through marriage, resoundingly.
For the most part, the production staged by Kelly and choreographed by Cooke, moves graciously through the circular space of the Andrews Theatre. There are moments when the dead ends of a theater in the round elude them, as in the staging of Madame Armfeldt’s “Liaisons,” which fails to conquer the challenge of a wheel chair, for a solo number, in the round. On the whole, however, the fluidity of the round space proves to be an asset for this elegant and lovely production. With a set by Kenneth Shaw and costumes by Lise Harty, the production looks appropriately beautiful.
A Little Night Music continues through October 18th.
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