Friday, March 23, 2018

'A Little Night Music' shows large talent in San Diego production

Sean Murray's Fredrik Egerman and Karole Foreman's Desiree Armfeldt create a believable, touching couple in
Cygnet Theatre's marvelous production of Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music." Desiree's earthiness, joy and regret
are talismans throughout the show while Murray's Fredrik has both cockiness and vulnerability. A delightful production!


In Old Town  San Diego, Cygnet Theatre is on stage through April 22, a
breathtaking interpretation of the classically inspired Stephen Sondheim work,
"A Little Night Music."  Inspired by the Ingmar Bergman film, "Smiles of a 
Summer Night," it revolves around the romantic lives of several couples.
At the villa of the Baron De Signac, Where I spent a somewhat infamous year, At the villa of the Baron De Signac I had ladies in attendance, fire-opal pendants.... Liaisons! What's happened to them, liaisons today........

and courtesy Cygnet Theatre

CYGNET THEATRE'S exquisite rendering of "A Little Night Music" ponders the meaning of life and the foolishness of human beings.
This San Diego incarnation ranks among the top productions I've reviewed in hundreds of plays here in my part-time California home and in my global travels.
I've seen Stephen Sondheim's masterpiece in London's West End, on Broadway and at celebrated festivals.
All were memorable productions, but at Cygnet Theatre last Sunday, I was utterly transported!
Anise Ritchie plays Madame Armfeldt, who gives her young
granddaughter advice and explains "three smiles."

As the dragoon, Carl-Magnus, David S. Humphrey adds comic relief
and gorgeous vocals. His put-upon wife, Charlotte, is played with wit and
touching insight by Sandy Campbell, who played the part a decade ago. 
TO GATHER this calibre of ensemble with  its exquisite blend of voices and instruments is rare. Sondheim's intricate music tests the range and capabilities of the finest singers and players. Both this cast and a small, precise orchestra rise light as gossamer to the challenge.
Sondheim's contrapuntal genius, sly wit and elaborate musical layers shine at Cygnet. How I wish he could see it; he would be pleased.
Yes, I am a Sondheim junkie. I loved "Sunday in the Park with George," "Side By Side," "Into the Woods," "Follies," and "Sweeney Todd." (I  saw Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou in NYC, and delighted in Sean Murray's spin on Benjamin Barker/Sweeney at Cygnet. But "Night Music" remains my favorite with its lyrical waltz theme.
IN 11 DISTINCT venues, I've enjoyed this wistful, witty musical, including a production in Billings, Montana, at the university where my late husband Bruce Meyers taught creative writing. (I was music director, conductor and pianist; Bruce played Fredrik, so the musical is dear to my heart.)
I saw both the original Broadway production in 1973 and Trevor Nunn's 2009 revival. In 1973, the great Hermione Gingold was a magnificent Madame Armfeldt, her last big role. I'd loved her since "Gigi." Her character explains the "three smiles" of a summer night, from which the title derives:  the first smile is for the young, the second for fools, the third for the elderly.  Her "Liaisons" stopped the show. Sondheim wrote the piece with her in mind.
Katie Sapper plays Anne, married at 18 to Fredrik Egerman, played by
Cygnet Theatre co-founder and "Night Music" director Sean Murray.

Cariou delivered his usual immaculate performance as Fredrik and Glynis Johns as Desiree was touching even though her always tremulous voice had seen better days.
Sean Murray's production at Cygnet is Broadway's equal and more. Murray's Fredrik is dapper and convincing, with just the right blend of vanity and frustration, attempting to sip from the fountain of youth. Both Karole Foreman as Desiree and Anise Ritchie as her dowager mother Madame Armfeldt perform with emotion, elegance and wit. I've not heard "Send in the Clowns" sung with such tenderness and empathy and Foreman imbues Desiree with a  contagious joie de vivre. My favorite "Liaisons" is immaculately rendered by Ritchie. She transcends beauty and youth to create a dignified, wise and worldly woman who relishes life even as death approaches.
DAVID HUMPHREY as Carl-Magnus, the pompous dragoon, is masterful-- and Sandy Campbell as Charlotte, his wickedly vengeful and sardonic wife, is delightful comic relief.
Hermione Gingold played Madame Armfeldt in 1973 when
"A Little Night Music" debuted at New York's Shubert Theatre.
Katie Sapper as Anne creates a dimensional young wife with her gorgeous voice.  Nick Eiter as Fredrik's studious son Henrik is also memorable -- we feel his angst. As the maid Petra, Megan Carmitchel is brilliantly sassy, delivering one of the score's best numbers.
Each song is presented with charm, while a stylish choral quintet integrates the action. Five gorgeous voices form this elegant Greek-like chorus. As young Fredrika, Desiree's precocious daughter, we saw the talented Faith Nibbe. She and the accomplished Ava Harris alternate in the role.
MURRAY AND GIFTED conductor Terry O'Donnell collaborate seamlessly. David Brannen's majestic choreography, Jeanne Reith's opulent costumes and Chris Rynne's subtle lighting enhance the nostalgic mood while Sean Fanning's imaginative set design includes moving birch trees.
We were first on our feet to lead a well deserved Standing O. 

Hats are the topic of next week's column, with quotes from famous wearers,
from Shirley MacLaine to Mae West and Cookie's late grandmother. 
NEXT UP: Hats are a family tradition for Cookie and her clan.  She remembers her first Easter bonnet, and recalls some risque hat episodes, including a tricycle ride downtown as a toddler, dressed in only her hat, a pair of gloves and her cowboy boots. Cookie's grandmother Olive believed a hat alters the image we have of ourselves, and the impression it makes on others. A hat brings out new dimension in our personality, just as a costume aids an actress in her role........  So in time for Easter and Passover, hats off! Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays when we post a fresh take on travel, nature, family, fashion and the arts.


  1. Splendid, lyrical review of a gorgeous production

  2. San Diego StalwartsMarch 27, 2018 at 8:46 PM

    Enjoyed this piece, and just saw the production which is indeed remarkable.

  3. Elegant musical, eloquent prose.

  4. Dana Point DabblersMarch 29, 2018 at 11:06 AM

    Loved the recommendation for Cygnet. Seeing it this weekend, our Easter gift to ourselves.