“A Little Night Music”

boho theatre – a little night music (6746) [Peter Robel and Kelli Harrington]
Photo by Liz Lauren

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

Where: BoHo Theatre at The Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.
When: through July 8
Tickets: $35
Phone: 773-404-7336

By ANNE SPISELMAN
Theater Critic

“A Little Night Music” is one of my favorite Stephen Sondheim musicals. Inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s film “Smiles of a Summer Night,” with a book by Hugh Wheeler, it’s simultaneously sweet and sad as it explores the complexities of romantic love, loss, and second chances. It also is delightfully witty and has wonderful songs, among them “Remember?,” “Every Day a Little Death,” “A Weekend in the Country,” “The Miller’s Son,” and “Send in the Clowns,”

But a production is not to be undertaken lightly, especially not by a company with limited resources. The score is extremely difficult, and the demands put on the singers are formidable. They also have to be really good actors or the characters will come across as caricatures. On top of all this, the staging requires a great deal of creativity.

BoHo Theatre’s version is a partial success, if stronger in the second act than in the first. Music director Tom Vendafreddo, who also conducts and plays piano, is a whiz, and he and the three other musicians—Mike Matlock on woodwinds, Sarah Kim on violin, and Magdalena Sustere on cello—make the show sound terrific, thanks partly to Malcolm Ruhl’s sensitive re-orchestrations of Jonathan Tunick’s orchestrations. The five performers who function as a chorus—Nicole Besa, Rachel Klippel, Emily Goldberg, Lazaro Estrada, Ross Matsuda—deserve lots of credit, too.

Placing the piano and musicians center stage was a canny move by director Linda Fortunato, particularly given the constraints of the theater. We feel like we’re watching an intimate concert more than a fully staged performance, and that lowers our expectations for the blocking, which is less than impressive. It’s just too bad Evan Frank’s scenic design is so amateurish with its ersatz birch-tree trunks that look more like drain pipes and aquamarine curtains fashioned from ugly fabric. Christina Leimicke seems to be trying her best with the costumes, though they’re not accurate for any particular period and occasionally contradict the lyrics. The lighting is forgettable, and while I’m pleased the actors aren’t miked, I’m told they’re hard to hear from some parts of the auditorium.

As for the acting, it’s very uneven. Kelli Harrington is engaging as Desiree Armfeldt, the middle-aged actress at the center of the story, and she won me over with her understated version of “Send in the Clowns,” even if she’s arguably too understated in general for someone who’s supposed to be an actress. Peter Robel’s Fredrik Egerman, the attorney who’s been carrying a torch for Desiree for years, doesn’t make much of a mark at first but becomes more interesting as his regrets emerge.

Swirling around them are Anne Egerman (Rachel Guth), the frivolous and insecure girl who is still a virgin after 11 months of marriage to Fredrik; Henrik Egerman (Jordan Dell Harris), Egerman’s son by his first marriage, who is studying for the ministry but is madly in love with Anne; Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Christopher Davis, just right), the pompous officer who is Desiree’s current lover); and his wife Countess Charlotte Malcolm (Stephanie Stockstill, dryly droll), who plots to win her husband back by making him jealous of her and Fredrik, even as she is Anne’s friend. There is also Petra (Teressa LaGamba), the Egermans’ maid, who deflowers Henrik.

At Desiree’s instigation, the Egermans get invited for a weekend in the country by her mother, Mme Armfeldt (Marguerite Mariama), who spends much of her time recalling her past liaisons, sometimes to Desiree’s daughter, Fredrika (Isabelle Roberts, perfectly cast), who is living with her.

A few of Fortunato’s casting choices are questionable, as is her decision to introduce a lesbian liaison not in the original and consequently jarring, On the plus side, an air of melancholy permeates the evening effectively, even as the couples sort themselves out with happy endings for most.

So, should you see BoHo’s “A Little Night Music”? If you’re a Sondheim fan, probably, because for the most part it does the music justice. If not, don’t feel bad skipping it.