OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 40 years since “A Little Night Music” premiered on Broadway. But, sure enough, the show opened in late February 1973 and Stephen Sondheim had his third hit in as many years, following “Company” and “Follies.”
It is a particularly difficult show for theater groups to stage – the score is extremely tricky, with complex meters, pitch changes and very high notes in both the male and female roles.
The Princeton Summer Theatre is opening its 20th season with the work, which, you may remember, is based on “Smiles of a Summer Night,” an Ingmar Bergman film.
And it is an almost unqualified success, a stunning tribute to an extraordinary company, a first-class technical team and a superb director.
The Bergman movie, like the play, is set in Sweden, roughly around 1900. It gets its title from a scene where the grandmother tells her young granddaughter that there are three smiles for a summer night: one, a smile for the young; two, a smile for fools, and three, a smile for the old.
The grandmother is a cynical old biddie, played in the Broadway original (and later in the London production) by Hermione Gingold. Other notables in the role have been Margaret Hamilton of Wicked Witch of the West fame, Angela Lansbury and Elaine Stritch in more recent times. As you can tell from the casting, the role is an essential part of any production. Here the grandmother is played by Carolyn Vasko, a fine actress, but too young (she will be a senior at the University next year) and not yet cynical enough to find all the nastiness needed to complete the character.
However, that is the only quibble of the evening. Sarah Anne Sillers, as Desiree, the actress with a roving eye and a yearning heart, is outstanding. Herr’s “Send in the Clowns” in Act Two will bring tears to your eyes, as will Maeve Brady as the Countess Charlotte. She is indeed young, a rising sophomore. Both ladies can act with flashes of brilliance and sing with the best.
The men have less exotic roles. Nevertheless, Evan Thompson as Fredrik, and Andrew Massey as Count Carl-Magnus, are superb. The former keeps his delicious sense of proper order no matter how ruffled, while the latter clearly is still searching for the meaning of what he is doing in perfect comic tradition.
Meanwhile, the Greek-Chorus of five business/social creatures (Sam Eggers, Abigail Sparrow, Emily Verla, Brian Hart and Jessica Anne Cox) work in and out of multiple scenes with ease, often moving bits of furniture and props as they do so.