Friday, November 02, 2012

Enjoying ‘A Little Night Music’ in the Place I Used to Live -- Theater Review

Community Theater Review

A Little Night Music
by Stephen Sondheim & Hugh Wheeler
Village Theatre, Glen Ellyn, IL
Thru November 10

I have seen dozens of Tony-winning productions and performances on Broadway, and many other widely-hailed works on stages in Chicago, New York, London and elsewhere. In doing so, I have enjoyed seeing several of the world’s finest and most famous actors and actresses upon the lighted stage (you can see some of them on this Pinterest board).

Yet I also genuinely enjoy attending community theater, where volunteer casts and crews participate for the love of it, many presumably without acute aspirations to make theater a career, but merely a passionate sidelight.

Especially as a triple-threat in reverse—unable to sing, dance or act—I have routinely been impressed by the level of talent I encounter in park district buildings, school auditoriums and the like.

From young performers possibly on their way to bigger stages, to former professional actors who have left behind the bright lights to raise families, to lawyers and policemen and teachers and retirees who, unlike me, can sing, dance and act, I am forever dazzled by “everyday folks” who are blessed with theatrical talent and who relish the chance to put it on display, even if only for 3, 6 or 9 performances after arduous rehearsals.

This summer, I caught a fine rendition of Legally Blonde at Skokie’s Devonshire Playhouse, where I had taken in an excellent production of Rent last year. After watching the Wilmette Park District present Brigadoon under the stars at the Wallace Bowl in July, next weekend I’ll take in their take on my all-time favorite musical, The Producers.

And on Thursday night I returned to Glen Ellyn, the DuPage County town where I lived from 1995-2007, to see the Village Theater Guild perform Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. The show ranks fairly high on my list of Favorite Stage Musicals, largely due to the exquisite productions I’ve seen—at Chicago Shakespeare Theater and at Light Opera Works in Evanston.

I wondered how it would translate to a community-theater setting, in a rather small venue at that. The Village Theater, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary season, performs within a one-room schoolhouse built in 1917, which seats just 40 patrons for each performance.

Though I lived just 5 minutes away for 12 years and would drive past the theater virtually every day, I only attended 5 productions while I lived in Glen Ellyn. And while I have always found the Village Theater’s quality to be impressive, I had never seen a musical there.

But even though “the orchestra” consisted of a single pianist (musical director Douglas Orlyk) stuck in a backstage cubbyhole, A Little Night Music proved to be rather blissful.

I don’t typically rate community theater productions, but feel this one truly deserves @@@@1/2. I’m not saying that this intimate rendition felt like a Broadway staging, or was quite on par with Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s current exquisite version of Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, but I left the theater with very much the same sense of delight.

As is rather standard with community theater productions, some performances were notably better than others, with a few slightly less than pristine vocals and a touch of overacting. But the merits throughout the cast far outshone any deficiencies and there were a number of performers whose singing and acting I couldn’t find fault with had I paid over $100 for a Broadway production.

Without meaning to slight anyone I don’t mention, Mark Mavetz was terrific as Fredrik Egerman, the lead male role, while Pam Turlow imbued his former lover, Desiree Armfeldt, with gravitas and delivered an excellent rendition of “Send in the Clowns.” I was also particularly impressed—not just because they were cute—by Teresa Arnold, who was positively delightful and well-sung as Anne, Fredrik’s young wife, and the aptly named Heather Miller, who as Petra delivered a luscious version of “The Miller’s Son.” If I’ve seen a better one, I don’t remember it.

While Randall Knott came off a bit too overbearing as Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, his singing was outstanding. And the actors who comprised the chorus, particularly the two men—Stan Austin and Steve Schroeder—also had strikingly rich voices.

While the scenic design in the tiny venue, in which the audience is practically part of the show, couldn’t be called splendiferous, it was certainly adequate and somewhat imaginative. All told, this production of A Little Night Music served to suitably remind me of the brilliance of this show—with a book by Hugh Wheeler accompanying Sondheim’s sublime waltz-based music and lyrics—and why I like it so much.

Based on Ingmar Bergman’s 1955 film, Smiles of a Summer Night, the show intertwines musical interludes about a variety of characters—Sondheim is a master at this, re: Company, Follies, Pacific Overtures, Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, Passion—in a way that at first feels a bit sketchily, but by show’s end, gives you rather shrewd insight into all of the main characters.

Though the staging need not be sophisticated, given the delicate beauty and sly lyricism of the songs, I imagine getting the tone right for A Little Night Music can be rather challenging. And this production does it justice.

Regardless whether a show is a lavish Broadway production or a high school musical, the most any theatrical work can do is make you leave the theater with a smile on your face.

50 years down the road for the Village Theater Guild in Glen Ellyn, I'm happy to say A Little Night Music did just that.

1 comment:

FrayedKnott said...

Stumbled upon this today, 9 months later, while looking up something else. It has now made its way around the cast of "ALNM." Thank you for a well thought out, well written review. We don't do this for the reviews, but seeing stuff like this never makes us sad.

Thank you,
Randall Knott