‘A wonderful piece of entertainment’

Irish Classical Theatre Company jumpstarts the 2015 theatre season with A Little Night Music, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler. Based on an Ingmar Bergman film titled Smiles of A Summer Night, the ICTC production, directed by local stage veteran Chris Kelly, follows the film closely.

. . . a wonderful piece of entertainment. . .

The story centers on Fredrik Egerman, an older lawyer married 11 months to 18­ year­old Anne, a flighty virgin who promises to consummate their marriage soon. Fredrik has a son Henrik, much closer in age to Anne than his father. Henrik is also a virgin and having trouble, even with advances from saucy maid Petra, getting the deed done. Fredrik meets up with his old flame Desiree, a road weary actress, and the two get caught in the act by Desiree’s married boyfriend, Carl­-Magnus, a jealous military officer. So jealous, in fact, that Magnus explains to his wife Charlotte how enraged he is and demands that she approach Anne and clue her into Fredrik’s infidelity. Eventually, they all wind up at Desiree’s mother Madame Armfeldt’s country estate to settle their squabbles and find serenity in their chaotic lives.

Once again ICTC brings in the best talent possible, showcasing some of the strongest voices in Buffalo theatre. Jenn Stafford, as Desiree, and Matt Witten, as Fredrik, plumb the depths of passion and regret throughout the play, interchanging roles of hunter and hunted as they sort out their fond memories and what-­ifs. The two leads support Sondheim’s strong songwriting with stellar singing during notable numbers ‘You Must Meet My Wife’ and ‘Send in the Clowns’. Both actors are more than capable of emoting the double meaning of the Sondheim lyrics.

Anthony Alcocer plays Carl-­Magnus as a proud peacock, strutting around stage spreading his feathers, admiring the world he has built for himself. Magnus is so bold he even talks to his wife Charlotte about his love affairs. Nothing about his character is redeeming or noble, yet Alcocer infuses just enough over the top silliness to keep his regal snootiness in check. At one point, he utters, “A civilized man can tolerate his wife’s infidelities, but his mistress’?

Michele Marie Roberts, as Carl­-Magnus’ wife Charlotte, steals several scenes, and late in the first act breaks few hearts with the song ‘Every Day a Little Death’, about the struggles of a life married to the philandering Carl­-Magnus.

Amy Jakiel as the seductive housemaid Petra, Pamela Rose Mangus as Madame Armfeldt, and Faith Walh as Fredrika Armfeldt, daughter to Desiree, all contribute to the themes present in the production.

All the women in the play are seeking some sort of common ground with the time and place they are stuck in. The innocent Fredrika, the naive Anne, the bold Petra, the confused Charlotte, the desperate Desiree and the bitter Madame Armfeldt combine to form a tempestuous bundle, each trying to deal with their lot in life ­ surviving in a man’s world. A song in the second act, ‘It Would Have Been Wonderful’, sung by Carl-Magnus and Fredrik, sums up the play in its entirety and showcases the wit of Sondheim’s music. The two men on stage sing about how it is clearly Desiree’s fault for being so wonderful that the men cannot resist her. The wonderful music, smart lyrics and excellent source material combine to enhance the struggle of the female players and make the men out to be more buffoonish than bad.

Director Chris Kelly expertly utilizes the cozy theatre in the round space at ICTC. The multiple entrances, constantly moving people on stage, and low­key set design by Kenneth Shaw all contributed to Kelly’s direction, creating an easy flow and establishing a tight rhythm. Special mention goes to the wonderful costumes worn by all the cast. Lise Harty, the Costume Designer, has set the bar high for future ICTC productions.

The four piece orchestra, led by Music Director Allan Paglia, fills the room with the lush sounds of Sondheim’s waltzes, significant in spirit to the physical and emotional movements of the main players. A chorus, dressed as maids and butlers, accompanies the main players on stage throughout the production, adding overlapping vocals and reinforcing the themes present.

The combination of humor, sadness, mystery, romance and desperation creates a compelling production of A Little Night Music. The onstage and offstage talent at Irish Classical has delivered a wonderful piece of entertainment that should be seen by lovers of the Bergman film, Sondheim’s music and theatre goers alike.

Advisory: Adult themes ­ implied sexual encounters.

Review by Anthony Vitello, Jr. | NY Theatre Guide