The other night, before the wildfire smoke blew in to town, I was walking in my neighbourhood in the evening about how lucky I am to be living at this latitude, with the magical long twilights as we approach the summer solstice. The long light warm evenings feel rich with extra opportunity. And I wondered how to share that feeling.
Last night I watched Foote in the Door’s production of A Little Night Music, a Sondheim musical based on an Ingmar Bergen movie directed by Mary-Ellen Perley. It’s set in Sweden around 1900. The second act takes place at a country estate, much of it outdoors. And there are songs about that magical extended twilight, songs that describe the feelings better than I ever could, with lighting (Sarah Karpyshin) and abstract set pieces (Leland Stelck) to support them.
A Little Night Music has a cast of 18. At first I kept referring to my program to figure out who was who and how they were connected. But later on, it just made more delightful threads of plot arcs to follow, to wonder how the cat’s-cradle of romances and affairs would untangle itself. Commenting on the liaisons and prospects of the others, and on the nature of love in general, are a grandmother (Pauline Farmer) and granddaughter Fredrika (Rebecca Erin Curtis, a MacEwan grad I will watch for again).
I loved the detail, consistent through the show, that star actress Desiree (Glynis Price) was surrounded by clutter and chaos – stockings and scarves draped over her furniture, enough male visitors that they cross paths in her apartment – her current lover Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Russ Farmer) and her former lover Fredrik Egerman (Morgan Smith), both sporting mustaches of importance. Count Malcolm’s indignant wife Charlotte (Monica Roberts), a likeably sarcastic character, comes up with a unlikely scheme to defend both herself and Egerman’s young wife Anne (Ruth Wong-Miller) from Desiree’s designs on their husbands. Anne is an astonishingly naive 18 year old. She claims to love married life but seems oblivious to being more passionate about teasing her stepson (Allan Cabral) than about her much-older husband. It was “amusing” (as the character often says) to watch Wong-Miller in this role, since she usually plays characters with more agency but was completely believable as the protected and petted young wife. Desiree’s daughter Fredrika, canonically about 13, seemed to be wiser with more understanding of the world and relationships, just from listening to her grandmother’s stories of liaisons and from having toured with her mother’s acting troupes.
There were a lot of bits in this production that had me laughing out loud – some of them were funnier to me than to other members of the audience. The part where Fredrika’s grandmother says that she brought Fredrika home to do a better job raising her because “ Stage managers are not nannies, dear; they don’t have the talent.” The bit where Fredrika takes Anne to watch Desiree on stage in a French comedy, the play-within-a-play a more exaggerated version of the grandmother’s liaison stories and the contemporary affairs and intrigues, and Brian Ault playing a footman or herald in a truly bizarre wig.
One of the common features of Sondheim musicals is complex music. Daniel Belland is musical director, with an ensemble of eight other musicians. As well as the characters named above, there are several servants, some with their own romantic plotlines, and a chorus of six, singing clever harmonies and hinting at further layers of complication (“Remember”) that we don’t get to see.
A Little Night Music is a musical for people who like musicals, a change from this company’s last production, the stage-musical version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. It’s long but it moves along at a good pace and I was surprised when it was already time for intermission. It’s playing at La Cité Francophone, until June 8th, with tickets through Tix on the Square.