Monday, May 28, 2018

The Glamorous Life: Sondheim's 'A Little Night Music' is Sublimely Delivered by BoHo Theatre -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

A Little Night Music
BoHo Theatre at the
Greenhouse Theater Center, Chicago
Thru July 8

Indulge and forgive me for opening this review with a bit of self-pride.

Last week I attended two concerts by the Irish rock band, U2, at Chicago's United Center, alongside 17,000 or so fans each night.

I have loved U2 since I was 15 and did once--er, twice--again.

It took until I was in my early 30s to develop a similar passion for Stephen Sondheim and the musicals he created.

And on Friday night--two days after the 2nd U2 show--among about 100 people at the Greenhouse Theater Center, I saw BoHo Theatre deliver a smashing opening night rendition of Sondheim's A Little Night Music

It was just as enriching, gratifying and consequential, as a component of my live entertainment diet and to my overall existence.

Photo credit on all: Liz Lauren
And, a few months from turning 50, this is one of the things I most like about myself--and my life. 

Heck, in between seeing A Little Night Music and writing this review, I rather abruptly took note of and attended a Northwestern University Symphony concert.

Free of charge, featuring works by Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff and including--with two choruses--a couple hundred people onstage, it too was fantastic. 

So a little night music--and cultural enlightenment--can come in myriad magnficent forms.

Though not quite as often as I've seen U2--22 shows now--I've seen A Little Night Music onstage several times, and have always been enchanted. 

With Sondheim and book writer, Hugh Wheeler, inspired by the 1955 Ingmar Bergman film, Smiles of a Summer Night, the musical about love and marriage--which opened on Broadway in 1973, just three years after the maestro's Company covered similar themes, differently--features many phenomenal songs. 

And with a delightful set design by Evan Frank, allowing for four musicians to fit in rather naturally onstage, BoHo's production under the direction of Linda Fortunato is really rather exquisite. 

In fact, the only reason I considered giving it less than @@@@@ (out of 5) is because a couple of the vocal timbres didn't quite match what I would expect on Broadway or a cast recording. But not by much and maybe because they were a tad undermiked. 

Given that this is a relatively intimate, low-budget rendition, that seemed a silly detraction, given how demonstrably good virtually all of the performers are. 

Peter Robel well enacts the role of Frederik Egerman, an aging Swedish lawyer now married to an 18-year-old beauty, Anne (a delightful Rachel Guff, soon to graduate from Northwestern), who isn't ready to have sex with him. 

So when the couple see Frederik's former lover, Desiree (Kelli Harrington, who is fantastic), an actress appearing in a touring play, he seeks to resurrect relations.

This in turn angers Desiree's lover, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Christopher Davis, owner of a phenomenal singing voice on "In Praise of Women"), whose wife Charlotte (the charming Stephanie Stockstill) commiserates with Anne on the incredibly poignant "Every Day a Little Death."

Also factoring in are Frederik's son, Henrik (embodied with a nice smolder by Jordan Dell Harris), his maid Petra (Teressa LaGamba, delivering a strong take on "The Miller's Son"), Desiree's mother Mme. Armfeldt (an elegant Marguerite Mariama) and daughter Fredrika (Isabelle Roberts).

The cast, and most of the singing, is truly superb all the way through to five ensemble vocalists, most prominently Emily Goldberg, who factors into the narrative as well.

So individual songs--such as "Now" (by Frederik), "Later" (by Henrik) and "Liaisons" (by Mme. Armfeldt)--are a joy, and even more so, choral numbers like "The Glamorous Life," "Remember" and the especially droll, "A Weekend in the Country."

As usual, Sondheim's lyrics are brilliantly insightful and incisive, and the waltz-based music a delight.

And Harrington deftly reminds why "Send in the Clowns" isn't just one of the composer's most famous songs--it was a hit for Judy Collins--but also one of his best.

Every time I see a production of one of Sondheim's shows, I'm reminded anew of the breadth and depth of his genius.

And I feel not only culturally enriched yet again, but--at least for a moment--that much smarter.

So far in 2018, I've seen nice local renditions of Merrily We Roll Along and Company. Both were satisfying if not quite superlative.

But this rendition is really sublime, and deserves a rave recommendation--even to those who take in shows of many genres and price points. (Via Goldstar, you can see this great show for just $17.50 + service fees.)

It may just be A Little Night Music, but when done really right--as here--it's sheer delight music.

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