By Jean Lowerison | Theater Review
“Solitaire is the only thing in life that demands absolute honesty,” Madame Armfeldt (Anise Ritchie) counsels her 13-year-old granddaughter Fredrika (Faith Nibbe) in Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music.”
Perhaps. Honesty does appear to be a rare commodity on a few summer nights in turn-of-the-19th-century Sweden, though longing and nostalgia are plentiful.
Cygnet Theatre revisits the piece — which was first presented a decade ago to inaugurate its tenure in the Old Town location — through April 22.
Inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s film “Smiles of a Summer Night,” Sondheim explores love in several of its iterations: wished-for, disappointed, withheld, taken for granted and offered without reservation.
The show offers a large cast including a fine quintet as Greek chorus, commenting frequently but noted mostly for musical comments about “The Glamorous Life” and several iterations of the nostalgic song “Remember.”
Age is the unsung villain here. Middle-aged Fredrik Egerman, played by Cygnet’s artistic director Sean Murray, is not aging gracefully. He has taken a trophy wife, 18-year-old Anne (Katie Sapper), who is a year younger than his son, the tortured seminarian Henrik (an adorable Nick Eiter), who feels less than holy stirrings he can’t quite handle.
There’s also Countess Charlotte Malcolm (played with great charm by Sandy Campbell), married to Count Carl-Magnus — both dragoon and buffoon — who is hilariously played by David S. Humphrey.
Much of the desired romantic action swirls around actress Desirée Armfeldt, now reduced to playing tours but still much desired for reasons unrelated to acting talent by the men in the show (notably Fredrik and Carl-Magnus). Karole Foreman handles the role wonderfully.
Desirée’s mother, Madame Armfeldt, seems to play mother frequently (if not especially willingly) to Desirée’s daughter Fredrika when the actress is on tour.
The excellent quintet consists of Christine Hewitt, Joseph Grienenberger, Cody Ingram, Catie Marron and Debra Wanger.
Megan Carmitchel does an excellent turn as the perky maid Petra (and does the song “The Miller’s Son” proud). Jake Rosko is also funny as the butler Frid.
This is a sumptuous production, with beautiful costumes by Jeanne Reith, fine choreography by David Brannen, lovely lighting by Chris Rynne, and a remarkable set by Sean Fanning, which features a rolling birch forest.
Live music is provided by Music Director Terry O’Donnell and his five-member ensemble, mighty though invisible.
“A Little Night Music” suffers from too many characters who are difficult to care about, too many patter songs and too few melodies. (However, that’s always my complaint about Sondheim, so take it for what it’s worth.)
Nonetheless, Cygnet has a hit on its hands.
— Jean Lowerison is a long-standing member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.