SALT LAKE CITY — I’ve seen several Utah Repertory Theatre Company shows. This theatre company has the incredible knack to find local and well-rounded talent to present its audience with a professional evening of theatre. So I was looking forward to see their production of A Little Night Music, a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler.
A Little Night Music follows the lives of touring theatre actress Desiree Armfeldt and her once-lover, Fredrik Egerman. Years pass and Egerman takes Anne, his current wife, to a performance of Desiree’s. Following the evening of theatre, Egerman confronts Desiree and their romance once again blossoms, but not without creating problems along the way. Drama and a little humor ensue, all encapsulated by Sondheim’s clever and familiar score.
Utah Rep just received BroadwayWorld’s Salt Lake City award for Best Theatre Company of the Year, and director Christopher Clark’s production of this musical fit that honor. The production felt grand and spacious—with one of the largest sets I’ve seen in the Sorensen Unity Center’s Black Box theatre. I was pleasantly surprised with the set design by Daniel Whiting and costumes by Nancy Susan Cannon. The set was lavishly ornate, with intricate wood paneling that created a proscenium, which elegantly framed the entire evening. Each costume was beautifully detailed, from Madame Armfeldt’s (Elizabeth Hansen) draping sequined dress, to the simple choice of showing contemporary undergarments from the 1900’s. Though beautiful to look at, as the evening progressed I felt disconnected from the performance.
Poor blocking made me question some of Clark’s directorial choices. Most of the choreography and blocking seemed odd and out of place, as if the movements were coordinated only to make a pretty stage picture. Some cast members simply stood directly in front of the other, in single file, or they changed places between stage right and left simply because it looked better. Not only was this movement distracting; it seemed to happen as if that’s where the cast was “told” to go to. In particular, “It Would Have Been Wonderful,” the duet between Fredrik Egerman (Doug Irey) and Count Carl-Mangus Malcolm (Matt Dobson), stands out because of the blocking choices. During this piece, the two characters switched places back and forth from stage right to stage left, which left me bored and thinking that it would be wonderful if they just stopped moving.
Intricate props and other set dressings (by Tim Mugrdige and Madeline Ashton), presented a picture of wealth, luxury, and aptly helped move the production along. However, the set pieces were moved on and off the stage by cast members in full costume and by one lonely crew member in all-black—which took me out of the moment during each scene change. Also, and perhaps because it was opening night, some of the props and set didn’t look finished: one-sided printed play tickets, Microsoft Word-esque created invitations, a blue light-up e-cigarette (which was extremely distracting and very out of place), and blue painter’s scotch tape left on the upper right and left corners of the set made the “magic” of the evening feel like an unfinished painting.
With all these easily fixable issues aside, most of the performances were excellent. A group of “muses” (Jim Dale, Raina Larkin Thorne, Natalie Easter, and Tamara Sleight) helped tell the story through plot reminders or exposition. These four cast members were vocally strong, blended together seamlessly, and completed each other well. Standout performances from the evening worth mentioning are those of Marissa Smith as Anne Egerman, Casey Matern as Petra, and Jon Rose as Henrik Egerman. Smith imbued her character, who ofter lead her husband Fredrik along, with a coy slyness. Smith’s vocals were matched well with the score, especially in numbers “Soon” and “Every Day a Little Death.” The latter song was complemented by an especially grounded performance from Dianna Graham as the Countess Charlotte Malcolm. Graham chose to play her character with a mix-matched sense of joyous cynicism, giving her role a chance to shine. Matern as the sassy and sensual Petra was sly and witty, with a strong grasp of her character’s needs. This was hauntingly apparent in “The Miller’s Son.”
Rose, as Fredrik, gave a solid performance of a young man, desperate to please his parents, but also to find his own joy. His rendition of “Later” allowed the audience into his troubled adolescence, all the while giving us hints of his desire to be a man. Rose had a strong voice, but it seemed as if the range of some of his songs was slightly out of his natural register. Susan Facer played Desiree Armfeldt with a soft sense of propriety and playfulness. Although her character remained mostly unchanged in the play, Facer’s rendition of “Send in the Clowns” was pleasant and admirable.
Utah Rep’s A Little Night Music could use a few more tune-ups and touch-ups to create a piece of theatre that truly sings. However, with some impressive performances and a lavish set to boot, this production is still perfect for those seeking a pleasurable evening of musical theatre.