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Review: A Little Night Music at St Kilda’s National Theatre

<p>A Little Night Music, playing at St Kilda’s National Theatre by Watch This!, navigates both romance and comedy with flair, producing a show befitting of the Tony Award-winning material—an achievement, considering its difficulty.</p>

Eddie Muliaumaseali'i & Johanna Allen - photo credit Jodie Hutchinson

A Little Night Music, playing at St Kilda’s National Theatre by Watch This!, navigates both romance and comedy with flair, producing a show befitting of the Tony Award-winning material—an achievement, considering its difficulty.

The time is the turn of the 20th century; the place is Sweden. Middle-aged lawyer Henrik Egerman is married to 18-year-old Anne, who refuses to consummate the marriage—only promising that it will be “soon”. His son (her stepson), Henrik, is a seminary student, and is not taken seriously—meanwhile, Henrik still desires an old flame, the once-famed actress now touring in small productions named Desiree Armfeldt. Throw in the maidservant, Petra (an exciting Petra is played by Anna Francesca Armenia), and Desiree’s current object, the count Carl-Magnus (who himself is married to the countess Charlotte), and you have all the material for a romantic comedy—or tragedy, depending.

The book (by Hugh Wheeler) and score (by Stephen Sondheim) delivers both, but make no mistake: this is a play threaded throughout with deeply hilarious events. Each line of dialogue promises much and delivers more, but each line is merely a lead to every new song, which shine with Sondheim’s superb lyrics and controlled music (nearly the entire score is written in ¾ time, but boasts of more inventiveness than most musicals regardless).

This staging delivers a competent treatment, and especially so given the small size of the company and the herculean efforts involved to stage such a complicated piece. Nadine Garner is superb as Desiree Armfeldt, bringing a stunning presence to the character as well as real vulnerability in ‘Send in the Clowns’. Johanna Allen is near perfect as the countess Charlotte, alternating between acerbic wit and indelible emotion. John O’May, too, as Henrik Egerman brings a human quality that sometimes is lacking from the character.

Some elements of the staging do leave more to be desired. Singing quality, while not the most important element of a Sondheim show (indeed, acting is more valued—and there is little lack of it here), but at times, there were difficulties in handling the varied score. While the staging is effective in its pared down, minimal way, it would have been something to see a more lavish production—but, for what it is, it is well directed and treated, and makes do with what it can have.

If you’re looking for a Sondheim show with a more shallow learning curve, exceptional book and exciting music, paired with excellent performances and direction, this show is the one to beat.

 
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