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A Little Night Music (Review)

New Stage Collective goes out with a stylish bang

By Tom McElfresh · May 1st, 2009 · Onstage

Critic's Pick

So it’s "hail and farewell" to Alan Patrick Kenny and New Stage Collective (NSC). With eight performances of Stephen Sondheim’s and Hugh Wheeler’s A Little Night Music (presented at Know Theater on Jackson Street in Over-the-Rhine), NSC completes its seventh and final season of always ambitious, often audacious playmaking.

Predictably, it’s going out with a stylish bang.

The production (staged by Joe Deer of the theater department at Wright State University in Dayton and music directed by Kenny) is less-than-fully staged: no set, black-box atmosphere, a few chairs, a bench and some colorful carpets. The lighting (Shannon Bailey) is simple and the costumes more selected than designed (Julia Gardiner). Five first-rate musicians placed upstage of the action: Kenny (piano), Gerri Sutvak (cello), Josh Moore (bass), Steffani Kitayama and Bryan Emmon Hall alternating on violin and Jane Zopff and Becky Childs alternating on harp.

Yet it’s well more than a concert reading of Sondheim’s all-waltz score and the wit-driven script that Wheeler extracted from Ingmar Bergman’s film, Smiles of a Summer Night. Action is fully blocked with energetic exits and entrances, though some actors do remain on stage when not involved in the scene of the moment.

And there’s simple dancing, also staged by Deer.

The space is compact. The bleacher seating is pushed close. Deer kept the action downstage center — all of that meaning that audience members are afforded an opportunity for closer-than-usual contact with the play’s lilt and its effervescent wit, both sung and spoken. The effect is electric.

Happily, Deer and Kenny cast able people to tell Night Music’s tale. Lawyer Egerman (Bruce Cromer) has married Anne (Kelly Pekar), who is half his age or younger. After 11 months, their marriage remains unconsummated. Meanwhile, Egerman’s old flame, actress Desiree Armfeldt (Amy Warner), is mistress to this dunce of a dragoon, Carl-Magnus (Tom Highley), who is married to Charlotte (Lisa Eriksen), who befriends Anne. And Egerman’s dour, clergyman-in-training son, Henrik (J.J. Parkey), has conceived a guilty passion for his stepmother, the virginal Anne. All of them wind up at the country home of Desiree’s mother (Renee Franck-Reed), a retired courtesan of epic renown. By the time Warner finally invites fate to Send In The Clowns — in a half-spoken, half-sung performance that’s as haunting as it is iconic — one of Sweden’s endless summer nights has smiled down on all of them.

Cromer never lets Egerman take himself too seriously or treat Desiree too lightly. Warner is a model of ironic self-awareness. Parkey lets Henrik quiver with leashed intensity but unwinds quite nicely once he and Anne (of the child-like delight) make history of each other’s virginity.

Frank-Reed is most authoritative and acerbic when singing “Liaisons” about her ancient affairs. And as Petra the maid, Margaret-Ellen Jeffreys sings her song about marrying “The Miller’s Son” seem so effective that it seems less foreign to the show than usual.

So come May 10 New Stage Collective will be history, leaving a big hole in Cincinnati’s theater scene. For years the cast and crew biographies in NSC programs have always included an “artistic statement” written or selected by the individual. For the Night Music program, stage manager Josh Neumeyer nailed it when he wrote: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

Amen, Josh. And, Alan, wherever you fetch up, May the road rise to meet you.

A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, presented by New Stage Collective, continues at Know Theatre through May 10. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.



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