REVIEW: A Little Night Music

[Title photo: Cole Newburg (left) and Audrey Graves.]

Of all the entangled romantic comedies in musical theater, A Little Night Music is quite the knot. The Department of Musical Theater completes its 2023-2024 season with Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s musical-operetta surrounding a horny mess of bourgeoisie adults at the turn of the century in Sweden. But it gets better—accompanied is a full orchestra with the most waltz-worthy melodies that string you right along with this troupe’s ridiculous antics.

The plot is quite dense. Desirée Armfeldt (Carly Meyer) is a fading actress touring small theaters across the country. She has a young daughter, Fredrika (Mariangeli Collado), who lives with her grandmother, Madam Armfeldt (Kate Louissaint), in the country. Desirée continuously delays seeing her daughter, preferring her life on tour in the theater. On the other side of town, Fredrik (Cole Newburg) and Anne Egerman (Audrey Graves), the newly married couple (with a quite significant age gap) live with Henrik (Michael Fabisch), the teenage son of Fredrik. He is a seminary student, frustrated and often ignored and mocked by the family with contentious feelings for his stepmother, Anne. One evening, Anne and Fredrick go to the theater, where Anne learns of Fredrik’s romantic history with the leading actress, Desirée. The two share an evening together, until interrupted by Desirée’s current affair, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Owen Scales). Thus begins a spiral of jealousy and scandal when Desirée invites both couples Count Malcolm and Countess Charlotte (Gabriella Palminteri) and Anne, Fredrik, and Henrik to her mother’s home in the country.

This production was directed by Telly Leung, a graduate of the University of Michigan Musical Theater Department and an active Broadway performer. Direction choices were thorough and aesthetic for a venue that can leave you uninspired. The choice of an electric lime-green floor often took me away from the glamour of these characters’ lives and exceptional music and performances, but thankfully was recovered by costume design right out of an Edwardian-type 1900s Sweden.

The orchestration of the show is near perfect. A full orchestra accompanied the performance tonight at the Power Center, one of the finest pit orchestras I have heard at this University to date (musical direction by the fabulous Catherine A. Walker). A glimmering orchestra underneath some of the most brilliant voices at the University was a perfect end to the semester.  With leading women Carly Meyer and Audrey Graves, there was not a single pedestrian vocal moment. Their attention to virtuosic vocalism as well as navigating Sondheim’s cheeky text was a thrill. Angeleia Ordoñez (Petra) performed one of my favorite pieces of all time—”The Miller’s Son”, a satisfying and sweet song from the audacious maid, Petra. She performed with utmost perfection, providing the most insight into the character of Petra throughout the whole show. The Quintet (expanded to ten for this production), enriched the musical score, serving as an ironic reflection of the two couples’ extravagant lifestyles. A personal favorite performance was Fabisch, accessing spot-on character physicality, brilliantly luscious vocals, and honest comedy—Henrik has never been so adored before.

A weekend in the country with this outstanding cast would be my pleasure, anytime at all.

[Mariangeli Collado (left), Carly Meyer, and Kate Louissaint]


April 19th, 2024, 8pm. Power Center for the Performing Arts. Images thanks to The University of Michigan Department of Musical Theater.

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