Broadway Review: A Little Night Music, Starring Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch

When Meagan Francis (of and more) put out the call on Twitter to any BlogHer attendees who might also be Broadway and Stephen Sondheim fans, it took me approximately 2.2 seconds to respond with a ME!ME!ME!  There was no reasonable way to hide my excitement at what she might have up her sleeve, and when she offered me a ticket to see A Little Night Music on Broadway, I darn near wet my pants.

Broadway?!  Sondheim?!  BERNADETTE PETERS?!  Oh, you’ve got to be kidding.  What a dream!

A synopsis of A Little Night Music:

Based on Ingmar Bergman’s film, Smiles of a Summer Night, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC is a witty and urbane musical set in waltz time. The action takes place in a weekend country house in turn-of-the-century Sweden, where surprising liaisons, long-simmering passions and a taste of love’s endless possibilities are all brought to light.

Thursday, August 5th, a small group of bloggers (including ME!ME!ME!) met at the Walter Kerr Theatre on West 48th street for the evening show.  We were divided amongst the crowd, but all of us had great seats in the small, quaint venue.

Though the orchestra was hidden (where?  I have no clue), they were fantastic, and the staging was simply and stark.  I was not entirely familiar with the storyline, and confess at being a little confused by the extraneous characters who seemed like either the main characters in flashback, or else the present characters’ servants.  I decided to think of them as the show’s “Greek Chorus” and listened as they sang the thoughts, memories, and emotions that the main characters themselves were to hesitant to express.

And as for main characters:  Bernadette Peters as Desiree Armfeldt was divine.  Her comfort and ease onstage was palpable, and her portrayal of an actress weary of life on the road and hungry for a home to come home to was moving.  Elaine Stritch, though clearly a force in her day, was uncomfortably distant and disconnected during her performance as Desiree’s mother.  She seemed to forget most of her lines, spoke instead of sang the words to her songs, and only momentarily seemed to sparkle in certain scenes.  She clearly needed help to stand for the curtain calls, and overall I felt this role was beyond her current abilities.

I enjoyed the performances of the other principals, even if I kept getting distracted by the inconsistent and difficult-to-place accents each actor chose to affect.  Three actresses managed to steal my heart that night, and somewhat unexpectedly.  The first was Katherine McNamara as Fredrika, Desiree’s daughter.  With a perfect balance of innocence and mischief, as well as a sterling voice and able presence opposite Bernadette Peters, I was just amazed with McNamara’s performance.  I was also quickly charmed by Leigh Ann Larkin as the spunky, sensual maid Petra.  She brought wisdom and a veiled depth to her character, and I loved listening to the tone of Larkin’s rich, solid voice.  Finally, Erin Davie as Countess Charlotte Malcolm seemed to come out of nowhere to possess the stage and steal the show.  Her portrayal of a bitter, scorned wife was infused with vulnerability, even while she plotted to steal back her husband’s affections.

I would not say this production of A Little Night Music was entirely without its flaws, but it was a great pleasure to watch.  It had all the laughs, all the tears, all the subtle nuances a story of love’s complications should.  And it had that one piercing moment that any great musical has, when time slows down and you forget you’re watching a show.  Here’s a clip of that moment for me, when Bernadette Peters laments missed opportunities, in perhaps the show’s most famous song: