The Chanticleer Theater has saved its best for last.
Strong singing, beautiful period costumes circa 1900 Sweden and the delicious music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim make “A Little Night Music,” which opened Friday for just a two-weekend run, well worth checking out.
Effective staging by director Dwayne Ibsen means minimal scenery doesn’t really matter. A few pieces of furniture and a couple of backdrops work just fine, letting our imagination do the work while keeping scene changes short.
The story, inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s movie “Smiles of a Summer Night,” draws plenty of laughs as it explores all the ways people are fools for love. Everything about this show is in threes, from the waltz-loaded score to the multiple romantic triangles.
Sondheim is never easy, with his tricky rhythms, dissonant chords and clever lyrics that sometimes tumble out in a torrent. “A Little Night Music” is a personal favorite, bittersweet and witty from start to finish.
So it was a pleasure to discover just how many cast members combine character-acting skill with solid vocal abilities — starting with a five-voice chorus in tuxes and gowns that wanders through warbling memories and commentary.
Chris Ebke, who doubles as the show’s music director, displays a fine baritone as widowed lawyer Fredrik. Fredrik finds himself besotted by his flighty new 18-year-old wife, Anne — even though she remains a virgin 11 months after the wedding.
Caroline Hinrichs is perfectly cast as Anne, a lovely soprano who guiltily fends off Fredrik and teases his adult son, Henrik — not realizing Henrik is in love with her.
D. Laureen Pickle does a beautiful job as touring actress Desiree Armfeldt, delivering an exquisite version of the show’s signature tune, “Send in the Clowns.” It comes after she and Fredrik have rekindled their long-ago affair, which resulted in a daughter Fredrik doesn’t know he has.
Strong supporting players include tenor Kyle Avery as ever-somber Henrik, studying to be a minister but finding it tough to hide his love for Anne; Kat Jarvis as flirtatious housemaid Petra, who tortures Henrik and grabs all the fun she can find; and Ruth Rath as Desiree’s mother, who got rich having affairs with royalty and is disgusted by untidy “modern” liaisons.
Mark Hinrichs, Caroline’s real-life husband and another fine baritone, is a hoot as preening dimwit dragoon Count Carl-Magnus. As his unhappy wife Charlotte, Sarah Query is poignant and funny as she commiserates with Anne about unfaithful husbands.
There’s not a weak link in the bunch, including a six-piece orchestra that sounds like more, thanks to keyboards that play as other instruments.
It’s not perfect. A couple of fright wigs could use some work. Pacing lags at times, but repetition could soon shave 15 minutes off the night.
Small quibbles. If you’re like me, all this fine singing will leave you wishing for a little more night music.
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