Looking to get out of town? Spend a weekend in the country with the Stratford Festival’s sparkling production of A Little Night Music. Filled with flirtatious energy and fuelled by the scandal of sexuality, the perfect combination of Stephen Sondheim's memorable music and Stratford's finesse make this a wildly entertaining production.
Set in Sweden at the beginning of the 20th century, we are greeted by a quintet of singers who harmoniously carry us through the tangled love story. Eleven months into their marriage, the youthful Anne Egerman (Alexis Gordon) and experienced Fredrik Egerman (Ben Carlson) couldn’t be happier, except for one overarching dilemma: they have yet to consummate the marriage.
Fuelled by sexual frustration, Fredrik takes to his old lover, the infamous stage actress and performer, Desiree Armfeldt (Yanna McIntosh). Once at Desiree’s flat, Desiree's lover, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Juan Chioran), upstages them. Angry at this suspicious discovery, Count Malcolm sets out to remove his mistress’ lover. Persuaded by her curiosity in her husband’s behavior, Countess Charlotte Malcolm (Cynthia Dale) learns of the story and informs Anne of Fredrik's infidelity.
Throughout all of this, Desiree's mother, the wealthy Madame Armfeldt (Rosemary Dunsmore), has been raising Desiree’s “illegitimate” child named Fredrika (Kimberly-Ann Truong). Desiree plots with Fredrika to host a party in the country for Fredrik, Anne, and Fredrick’s son, Henrik (Gabriel Antonacci). What could go wrong?
Charlotte urges Anne to accept the invitation and fuel the drama between her and Desiree. As if this wasn't enough, the Count plots to attend the weekend uninvited with Charlotte, who plans to seduce Fredrik in a ploy of her own. With all this scandal ripe in the air, the first act comes to a close, leaving the rest of the action in utter scandal.
If the plot alone isn’t enough to drag you out of Toronto, Sondheim’s music and lyrics are distinctly clever and catchy. Hugh Wheeler’s book remains timeless with the piece as you are pulled into the tumultuous love affairs and cunning drama of the early 20th-century elites. Gary Griffin’s direction of the piece gently sways you through the comedy, tragedy and blissfulness of the drama. Although entirely maniacal, Griffin's direction holds true as a metaphor of the title – it’s nothing more than a little night music by itself.
The cast is composed many Stratford veterans, from Cynthia Dale to Sean Arbuckle, but also plays host to many new faces as well. Alexis Gordon brings charm and shine in her second season at the festival, whereas Yanna McIntosh continues to grasp our hearts and minds during the production’s ultimate hit song, “Send in the Clowns.” Juan Chioran keeps us laughing in our seats, with Cynthia Dale harmoniously crying out for and among women of the time.
An elaborate musical deserves a grandiose set; however, this is where the festival slightly fell short. While crafty, Debra Hanson's surrealist elements from the globe to the industrial stacks were simply not enough. There were many scenes in the musical where an extension of scenic property could have uplifted the characters and enhanced the romantic, or rather scandalous fervor of the moment.
If the city becomes too unbearable this summer and in early fall, take a trip to the country and experience Stratford at its musical finest. You will not be disappointed by the sparkle that is A Little Night Music.
A Little Night Music plays at the Avon Theatre until Oct. 23. For more information, visit www.stratfordfestival.ca.