Review | A Little Night Music: the perfect show for a frigid winter night

Theater Latté Da, through March 3

Sally Wingert in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. Photo by Allen Weeks.

Only the great Stephen Sondheim can do this: hunched over a (grand, naturally) piano, he plunks out a simple melody. One five-five-five. “Isn’t it rich? / Don’t you approve?” And suddenly – hey, presto! – Sondheim has created “Send In The Clowns,” one of the most enduringly popular songs in the American musical canon. You know the lyrics by heart, don’t you.

Though for my money (of which I have very little), the song that comes immediately after “Clowns,” “The Miller’s Son,” is even better. “The Miller’s Son” is a life-affirming paean to fantasy and love-making. In the excellent Latté Da production of A Little Night Music (at the gorgeous Ritz Theater, through March 3), the song is sung by Britta Ollmann, and she’s a marvel, sexy and energized, effortlessly taking the stage. She performs the song with an affecting lascivious grin. Formidable, as they say in gay Paree.

A Little Night Music is about, well, ahem, sex. And about the astonishing ongoing presence of the past. Two subjects near and dear to my heart (and yours too I’m betting). Based on Ingmar Berman‘s Smiles Of A Summer Night (one of Bergman’s only comedies), the show depicts the sexless marriage of Fredrick Egermann to his 18yo wife Anne. Travelling through town is Fredrick’s old (she would argue vociferously with this characterization) flame, Desirée Armfeldt. She and F reconnect (how overtly sexual this reconnection is is left to the imagination). There is also D’s lover Count Carl-Magnus (nicely played, complete with macho baritone, by Rodolfo Nieto) and his wife Charlotte (a truly wonderful turn by Elizabeth Hawkinson). Act Two portrays the shenanigans that occur when all the characters are brought together for “A Weekend In The Country.” Sparks fly, and I’ll say nothing more.

The two leads, Fredrick and Desirée, are played by Sally Wingert and Mark Benninghofen. What they may lack in polished music theater prowess they more than make up for in solidity and maturity. They bring substance and power to the play and they really make A Little Night Music work. Wingert’s “Send In The Clowns” is lovely. Bennghofen’s strained infatuation with his child-wife is utterly convincing. They are terrific

A Little Night Music felt a tad rough and ragged. Opening night jitters? Under-rehearsed? It’s small complaint and I’m sure it will take care of itself in time. I shouldn’t have mentioned it.

Director Peter Rothstein deftly stages this cinematic play and gives it a delicious summertime ambiance. “Sweet summer sweat,” as the Eagles say.

I’ve seen a number of productions of A Little Night Music and here, for the first time, I really felt the power of Hugh Wheeler‘s book. (I believe that we have Ingmar Bergman to thank for much of the story.) Coupled with Sondheim’s masterful music – the songs, as is normally the case with Sondheim, are masterpiece after masterpiece – you have the perfect show to see when the high temp is -5F. You deserve this play.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. John’s The Voice Of The Prairie has been performed 100 plus times and ditto Minnesota Moon and his adaptation of Sideways Stories From Wayside School. His The Summer Moon won a Kennedy Center Award For Drama. He has won fellowships from the Bush Foundation, The McKnight Foundation and from The National Endowment For The Arts. Please visit John’s informational website.

 

 

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