Theater Review: Falling under the spell of ‘Night Music’

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“Perfection” is one of the songs in the musical, “A Little Night Music,” with book by the late Hugh Wheeler and songs and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Well, maybe not a 10, but a 9 at least! Now playing in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion as the first summer production of the Los Angeles Opera, the show should be caught before it closes on July 31.

Everything works beautifully in this revival with its “no expenses spared” look, from the clever sets to the magnificent costumes. Best of all is the first-rate cast, all of them showing off skills as actors and singers. The musical, which is vaguely based on Ingmar Bergman’s movie, “Tales of a Summer Night,” looks at love cynically, suiting the style of songwriter Sondheim. The relationships of three couples are explored as they meet at a villa in the country. Since this is Sweden at the turn of the century, the old-fashioned setting has charms.

The characters express their sorrows, their fears, their hopes in remarkable Sondheim songs with his inimitable lyrics. The music is set in waltz time and Sondheim, Mozart-like, weaves together duets, sextets and other complicated equations.

The cast consists of such Broadway veterans as Judith Ivey, Zoe Caldwell and Victor Garber. Caldwell, in the role of the ancient Mme. Armfeldt, almost steals the show with her glorious reminiscences of past liaisons. Seated in a wheelchair, she knowingly surveys the pairings and unpairings of the various couples. Judith Ivey has the meaty role of Desiree, aptly named, who sings the heartfelt “Bring in the Clowns” with remarkable poignancy. She is certainly convincing as a woman of the world who longs for her lost love.

One of the great scenes of the modern musical is the finale of Act I, in which the couples sing of their hopes and doubts in “A Weekend in the Country.”

Victor Garbor is Fredrik, a middle-aged man married to a pure young thing of 19, played by the beautiful Laura Benanti. Can such a union last? Especially when his son, Henrik (Danny Gurwin), is besotted with his stepmother. Adding to the pudding are a jealous lover and his forgiving wife, played wonderfully well by Marc Kudisch and Michele Pawk. Kudisch is a lovable mad Prussian type, ready to duel at the drop of an insult.

Others in the cast, all excellent, are Kristen Bell, Jessica Boevers and Hank Stratton.

The show has been orchestrated by director Scott Ellis and choreographer Susan Stroman. The sets by Michael Anania are lovely, evoking the era and the status of the players. Most impressive is the never-ending array of gorgeous costumes created by Lindsay W. Davis. John DeMain kept the music humming as conductor of the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra.

This production of the New York City Opera captured 23 Tony Awards. New York, New York! If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. How true!