Review: Gateway Theatre’s “A Little Night Music”
A little Sondheim never hurt anybody. But then again, no artist is perfect. The man behind greats like Sweeney Todd and Into The Woods has had a rather prolific career, though. It’s to be expected that not everything Stephen Sondheim created is a pure masterpiece.
A Little Night Music is certainly not a terrible show, but time has not been kind to the piece. Certainly a lot about love and relationships and social entanglements has changed since the musical debuted in the early ’70s. It is hard to relate to the play in modern context, perhaps more definitive in the fact it is set in the early 1900s than when it was actually created.
That said, Gateway’s production has a lot of factors in its favor. The cast rounds up a lot of the Lower Mainland’s most impressive theatre actors all in one sweep. Here we have a nice, round core group of exhilarating and impressive talent who manage to make the most of a somewhat sleepy script.
A Little Night Music is another story about love and affairs and people chasing other people around. The misogyny of the script is hard to watch given where we think we are as a society. It is true to its era but that doesn’t make it any more bearable to sit through mountains of dialogue of a man complaining about his wife showing interest in another man while he complains directly to her that his mistress is losing interest.
Production-wise, we have some very progressive technical and artistic elements at play that help angle the show in a unique framework. The small orchestra is kept onstage for the entire running length of the show, becoming almost a piece of a set while also adding atmosphere and a makeshift ensemble at points. Alan Brodie’s set design is beautiful and allows the cast to seamlessly transform the stage from one locale to the next all with a quick sweep of a sheer curtain that allowed the audience to transport with the narrative instantaneously.
As a musical, A Little Night Music is a bit all over the place. It’s not cohesive, it lacks focus, and it carries on a bit long. But golly, there are some fun and entertaining little numbers. Sure, there’s the well known torch song “Send In The Clowns” that appears near curtain call of the second half, but even that isn’t the best part of theatre found within Music‘s songbook.
Fredrik (Warren Kimmel) and Desiree (Katey Wright) have the best stage moment with their duet “You Must Meet My Wife”, in which Fredrik regales his mistress about his younger partner’s best assets while Desiree twists his words in that perfect Sondheim manner. Even the opening act “Night Waltz” provides a wonderful showcase of the entire ensemble’s vocal range. But then there are sleepers.
Madame Armfeldt (Katey Wright) never seems to reach the end of “Liaisons”, and “A Weekend in the Country” closes out act one with a repetitive and redundant repeat of the title on a tiresome loop. Thankfully, the good outweighs the bad, but the clunkers are really heavy in this script.
On the whole, A Little Night Music has plenty of wonderful elements and features, but it relies on a script that we’ve seen a few too many times before. Is it worth seeing, though? Of course. With a cast like Kimmel and Allan and, in my opinion, the scene stealing Caleb Di Pomponio (as Fredrik’s spunky and funny son Henrik), we have a lot of talent gathered on a single stage that makes for an impressive watch. It all depends on which lens you watch A Little Night Music, and where you prioritize your focus. Technical buffs and fans of classics will love it. For everyone else, you have to take the “Liasons” with the “Clowns”.
A Little Night Music: Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Hugh Wheeler. Directed by Peter Jorgensen. Produced by Patrick Street Productions.