A little night music – Sydney University Musical Theatre Ensemble and the very beautiful. (Theatre Review)
A Little Night Music
MUSE (Sydney University theatre Ensemble)
Seymour Centre from 25 – 28 March
Despite its complexity and the multifarious delicate nuances, A Little Night Music has become a bit of a favourite for young musical ensembles to cut their teeth on, almost acting as a rite of passage into the serious world of musical theatre. Stephen Sondheim’s most famous work lends itself to this treatment by virtue of the fact that even the most rudimentary and creatively obedient production still presents as a magical stage experience, so while any production is a major accomplishment, one can get away with doing a good job rather than needing to do a brilliant one. This works well for the Sydney university Musical Theatre Ensemble, because there are members of this production who shine while others who lack the same verve and command of the material share the stage. This simply has to happen, because all these talented individuals need to perform, so the choice of A Little Night Music becomes a perfect opportunity to study the famous musical for production and audience members alike. This current production is good enough to entrance those who have never seen the famous musical, and educate those involved in any aspect of musical theater.
Of particular note in this production is the strong direction of Alexander Andrews working in partnership with choreographer Brittany Doyle, that makes clever and full use of the Everest Theatre at the Seymour Centre. They have a simple set, paring it down to key props, retaining the power of the narrative close to the performances which does create a sense of intimacy on so large a stage. Andrews has his cast vibrantly cross the stage when chasing emotion and sitting still and small when emotion overwhelms them making movement a key device in delivery when busy staging and sets might be absent. On the night I attended some sound and lighting tweaking was necessary (glitches I’m sure have been worked out) but the depth and breadth of the performances justified Andrew’s direction well, bringing the audience close to the performance.
The show opens with what will become a Greek Chorus of sorts, the Lieberlieder Quintet, upon whose shoulders rest the weight of cultural context of both music and book. Until we get familiar with our leads, they are the signifiers, and carry responsibility for delivery of so much of the emotional response, particularly embodying the sense of magical delight that A Little Night Music carries. Being a film person, and familiar with the Bergman original, they were the greatest point of departure from the source material for me, and therefore gave a very familiar story its freshness as well as moving the narrative structure away from the feel of a plotted film. These five young people are all very talented, with stand outs being Clare Richards and Curtis Gooding who each took full advantage of the difficult material to display and enjoy their roles. Around them, Georgia Melville, Zara Stanton and Gavin Brown were equally fine, if a trifle more subdued, but the five really give this particular production the gravitas and easy beauty that will leave you spellbound.
Standouts in the cast beyond the Quintet were Christine New as Charlotte Malcolm (who has a great talent for comic timing) Sarah Gaul as Madame Armfeldt and Anna Colless as Petra, who each brought a fresh exuberance to their roles and managed to become the eyes focus whenever they were on the stage. Louise Flynn is a strong Desiree Armfeldt in a particularly difficult role as so much of the character is about her age, and Flynn is (obviously) young. Congrats does belong to all the cast who had to play older roles. One of the major themes of A Little Night Music is the sad yet potent advantages of age over the happiness and naivety of youth and so it’s no small feat to play much older, far more sincerely jaded people when you are young and exuberant yourself. It’s a personal beef of mine when these female roles get reduced to bitching or petty jealously rather than the observational wits Sondheim (and Bergman) obviously intended them to be, and thankfully none of the cast fall into that error, even if some of the more subtle jokes become a little too distanced. Stuart Bryan as Fredrik Egerman and Harry Flitcroft as Carl Magnus Malcolm equally live up to the daunting tasks their roles demand, also not relying on turgid stereotypes or biological assumptions in portraying their characters. They’ve gone deep enough to bring us into the real world of these people and give us the taste of society that can genuinely act as a mirror.
I should mention, Louise Flynn’s ‘Send In The Clowns’ is really marvellous and she shows a great sense of self when she performs it in an understated fashion, given the power of the actresses who have sung the song before her. It is a beautiful song that comes with a lot of baggage – good baggage – and she handles the weight of all that with accomplished strength.
This is a lovely production of A Little Night Music, one for both the lovers of the musical and those who are new to its many joys.