Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music,” now at the American Conservatory Theatre until June, is a superb production, enchanting in every detail. With a cast headed by Patrick Cassidy (Frederick), Karen Ziemba (Desiree), Emily Skinner (Charlotte), and Dana Ivey (Madame Armfeldt) – Sondheim’s classic score from 1973 comes to life under the direction of conductor Wayne Barker. Stage direction by Mark Lamos is crisp and steadfast, with a keen eye on the timing of set-ups and punchlines. Val Caniparoli’s always resplendent choreography keeps the tone of the complicated plot on a starry-eyed level that blends in perfectly with the already elevated reality of the tale. The elegant costume designs by Candice Donnelly evoke the delicious flavors of late 19th century European operetta and the diaphanous textures in the ballet paintings of Edgar Degas. Kevin Kennedy’s overall sound design is good with only a few volume flares as body mics become too close. The easy-moving set designs of Riccardo Hernandez capture suggestions of elegant boudoirs, gardens, and estate housing as the warm tones of lighting designer Robert Wiertzel smile on this Swedish summer night’s dream.
Patrick Cassidy is the most debonair package on today’s musical stage. Possessed of the familiar romantic hallmarks of a Douglas Fairbanks and Hal Linden, Cassidy’s mellow vocals, sophisticated bearing and suave drawing room élan are potent and enviable. Veteran Broadway star Karen Ziemba eases her way into the glamorous role of actress Desiree Armfeldt. Her delivery of “Send in the Clowns” brought sense and freshness to the oftentimes overwrought number. Tenor Justin Scott Brown gives a fine performance as Henrik Egerman, the sexually frustrated / religiously conflicted son who runs off with his father’s wife, Anne. High soprano Laurie Veldheer is appropriately annoying as Anne Egerman, the 18-year-old flibbertigibbet and still virgin-wife of Henrik’s father, Frederick. Marissa McGowan as Petra received a well-deserved response for her excellent rendition of “The Miller’s Son”. Paolo Montalban is unusually appealing as the always loud / always overbearing / always self-centered Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm. Emily Skinner is the best Charlotte Malcolm ever and Dana Ivey as Madame Armfeldt spins a delightfully jaded yarn in one of Sondheim’s best numbers, “Liaisons”. Young Brigid O’Brien is shrewd and cool as Fredrika Armfeldt and hats off to the polished vocals of the very graceful and harmonious quintet.
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