San Francisco is sounding an awful like Broadway this past week with the opening of “Heathers,” “Grey Gardens” and now “A Little Night Music.”
The American Conservatory Theatre has mounted one of Stephen Sondheim’s most lavish productions and presents it to the City by the Bay with a cherry on top.
The story itself is rather sordid – a progressive and opened minded actress thinks she’s successful at juggling two married suitors until they all show up at her family’s villa one summer evening. Sounds quite tawdry but when you pile on high brow accents and 1900s era costumes, lead character Desiree Armfeldt seems more worldly and not so promiscuous.
With a book by Hugh Wheeler, “Night Music’s” real source material is a film by Ingmar Bergman entitles “Smiles on a Summer Night.”
The San Francisco production seems to be a fresh interpretation from the Broadway revival that just closed on Broadway a few years back after winning a Tony Award for stars Catherine Zeta-Jones (while the original Broadway production won six Tonys in 1973 including Best Musical).
Director Mark Lamos, costume designer Candice Donnelly and scenic designer Riccardo Hernandez create a visual world that pays homage to the original production as well as the revival and gives San Francisco a true taste of Broadway. Whether its the gorgeous gowns worn by the Company in the show’s transitions or the beautiful backdrops of trees and mansions, production-wise, “Night Music” is a home run. Let’s not forget Val Caniparoli’s choreography. From first appearance, there seems to be little dancing. Yet, there are several scenes where actors dance on and off the stage – many times just to change the sets. Caniparoli makes this moments part of the show, instead of a delay. Also, don’t know if it’s the director or choreographer’s decision, but there’s also one fun moment where couples involved in trysts literally roll and off the stage, which is surprising and winning
Sondheim doesn’t need much praise himself for the show – he’s the most famous composer of our generation. This is his most lush score, it does have its standout songs including “Send in the Clowns.”
But it’s the cast that also transports us to Broadway via their presence on the Geary Theatre stage.
Tony winner Karen Ziemba takes on the role of Desiree and fits the shoe more perfectly than even Cinderella could. With her seasoned talents and vast experience, she’s able to ensure the complexities and the subtitles of the role and dialog are noticed but not oversold. Another Tony winner Dana Ivey is also a delight in the fun role of her mother, who too relies on her instinctual timing to make all of her lines true zingers.
Tony nominee Emily Skinner also provides an acid tongue to her dialog, riddled with innuendo and seduction. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen her work and it was wonderful to get reacquainted with her.
The men in their lives almost serve as mere eye candy – more reacting to the situations created by their female counterparts. Yet Patrick Cassidy is quite commanding in his role as Frederik, Desiree’s long ago suitor who has married a young woman (the very chipper and funny Laurie Veldheer) closer to his son’s age. lLso, Paolo Montalban as Skinner’s husband is quite the buffoon and makes is all laugh whenever his machismo enters the stage.
Unlike many Broadway shows, though, “Night Music” will not be here for years. It is only schedule to run through June 21. Get more information and tickets at www.act-sf.org.