Spotlighters serves up a 'Little' sophistication

Theater Review

  • Desiree (Michele Guyton) is torn between her present lover, Carl Magnus (Jimmy Heyworth), left, and a previous lover, Fredrik Egerman ( Will Emory), in the new staging of Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music," now at the Spotlighters Theatre in Baltimore..
Desiree (Michele Guyton) is torn between her present lover,… (Ken Stanek )
July 07, 2011|By Mike Giuliano

Stephen Sondheim's 1973 musical "A Little Night Music" retains its sophisticated charm at the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre. Based on Ingmar Bergman's 1955 film "Smiles of a Summer Night," it's a bittersweet story about romantic relationships so entangled that there's plenty to sing about.

This large-cast show provides its share of staging challenges for the production directed by Fuzz Roark on Spotlighters' compact in-the-round stage. Some of the ballroom dancing is done under extremely tight conditions here, but most of the scenes flow reasonably well on the stage and adjacent areas.

Although the set design, props and costumes often could do a bit more to suggest the pastoral setting in early-20th-century Sweden, the actors inhabit their roles with conviction; and their generally reliable singing is given consistent support by musical director Michael Tan.

What really makes this production work is the central performance by Michele Jenkins Guyton as a middle-aged theater star, Desiree Armfeldt, whose many stage credits are matched by the roster of men with whom she has had affairs.

When this production's Desiree sings the most famous song in the score, "Send in the Clowns," its assertively melancholic lyrics register with the force they should.

Desiree qualifies as a somewhat weathered theatrical diva who takes over any room she enters, but the musical itself has a book by Hugh Wheeler that ensures that a number of other characters also enjoy enough moments in the spotlight. Desiree, for instance, has an elderly mother, Madame Leonora (Suzanne Young), who has lost none of her acute judgment; and Desiree also has a teen daughter, Fredrika (Meghan Fluke), who still has a lot to learn about life and love.

Just as thoroughly scripted is the family attached to one of Desiree's old flames, Fredrik Egerman (Will Emory). A widower, Fredrik has recently wed a much younger woman, Anne (Laura Kavinski), who isn't much older than Fredrik's son, Henrik (Jeffrey Coleman). Poor Henrik's crush on his stepmother is funny for us, but not for him.

Although the principal actors generally blend together well, Coleman is a relatively recent presence on local stages and he still exhibits some growing pains as an actor. This isn't too much of a liability here, because Henrik is meant to be a hesitant young fellow.

There are additional characters sparking further amorous complications. Among the supporting actors making an impression in these roles are Kristen Zwobot, Angela Sullivan and Coby Kay Callahan. As a servant named Petra, Callahan is beautifully assertive singing "The Miller's Son."

The escalating complications make "A Little Night Music" verge on being a bedroom farce, but one that's very intelligent by that genre's standards. Such complexity does result in some awkward traffic management and scenic transitions in this production, but the emotional force of the story always remains strong.

There also are related concerns with vocal managment in a few songs. The opening number, "Night Waltz," for instance, boasts an impressive collective sound from the company, but individual voices that are meant to be highlighted within the ensemble aren't articulated very clearly. Articulation also could be sharper in several other numbers, which hurts in a show characterized by Sondheim's incisively revealing lyrics.

Considering how much is going on in "A Little Night Music," it's understandable that not every detail is in place in this production. After all, it's Desiree's mother who makes the understatement of the evening when she declares: "A lot seems to be going on in this house this evening."

"A Little Night Music" runs through July 24 at the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul St., in Baltimore. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20. Call 410-752-1225 or go to

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