For complex 'Night Music,' a simply classy production

March 18, 1994|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Special to The Sun

The imagination of Stephen Sondheim has yielded some of the stiffest artistic challenges Broadway has ever known.

His subject matter is always weighty, his melodies tend to emerge in short, motivic bursts that don't always provide much for the singer to grab onto, his devilish rhythms are as close as Broadway gets to Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring." And absolutely all of this complexity must speak with an expressive authority worthy of the most literate lyricist of them all.

So, if Mr. Sondheim's "A Little Night Music" is on your agenda, you'd better be drowning in talent, because you're going to need That is exactly the case with the "Night Music" now in production at the Colonial Players of Annapolis. Without question, it is the classiest musical production I've seen yet at CP, and I'm hard-pressed to think of a local cast as talented from top to bottom as the one I saw Sunday night at the little theater off State Circle.

Set in turn-of-the-century Sweden, "A Little Night Music" is about the missed opportunities of love and of life.

What a charming crew of emotional misfits we find! There is an adulterous lawyer married to an 18-year-old virgin who is adored by a self-torturing divinity student who happens to be her stepson.

Then there is the glamorous, free-loving actress in the midst of an affair with an army officer whose wife could teach Machiavelli a few things about what's really fair in love and war.

It's a melange of missed opportu nities, of people "flirting with rescue when they have no intention of being saved," as Egerman the lawyer puts it.

Even the happy ending is sent in by the clowns. The lovers unite not out of the courage of their convictions, but because the farcical passions of others remove the obstacles to their union.

But it takes beautiful performances to paint such an unpretty picture.

Nori Morton, glamorous as ever, is both funny and bittersweet as Desiree, the actress. Roger Compton is delightful as the affably befuddled lawyer.

There are notable debuts by Sherry Kuznicki as the teen-age bride and by Linnea Wallinder, who adds both spice and a touch of Swedish realism as the officer's calculating wife.

Tom Newbrough is suitably pompous as the soldier, and Dorothy Wardell reminisces in fine style about the legions of noblemen she bedded in her youth. "I acquired some position. Plus a tiny Titian," she sings.

Young Amanda Smear is charming as the daughter of the actress. And just when you've sized up Molly Green Moore's Petra the maid as a comic floozy, she hijacks the show with a riveting account of "The Miller's Son" late in Act II.

Kudos also to the excellent quintet of singers deputized by CP to staff Sondheim's musical Greek chorus.

The only negative is a synthesized soundtrack that sounds horrendous and must have made the score 10 times harder to sing than it already is. Better a single, beautiful piano than all the electronic gingerbread in the world.

But what a tour de force this play is. Let's face it, in the dance of love maybe none of us is Baryshnikov. But how grand it is that we can occasionally hoof to the elegant honesty of Stephen Sondheim even as we inevitably stumble.

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