Here’s to the ladies who spent “A Weekend in the Country” on the Armfeldt estate in the San Francisco production of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s A Little Night Music! All six women in the cast lit up the American Conservatory Theater’s Geary Theater (May 20-June 21, 2015), providing a glow missing from the visual impact of the show, but shining delightfully nonetheless.
Karen Ziemba was worldly warm with just the right touch of ruefulness as Desirée Armfeldt, the woman that Patrick Cassidy’s Fredrick Egerman should have been with all his life. Her completely human portrayal anchored the production, giving her female compatriots a solid center around which to orbit.
Ziemba’s sardonic humor was matched by Dana Ivey as her sharp-tongued mother. Ivey’s “Liaisons” was mockingly caustic, but she never lost her sense of dignity. As Fredrika, Brigid O’Brien, 14, brought a bit of wonder over the world she’s just beginning to comprehend. O’Brien managed to brighten each moment of her stage time.
The best of the bunch, however, turned out to be Emily Skinner, granting the Bay Area a second helping of her talents for the 2014-2015 season, after headlining 42nd Street Moon’s earlier production of Do I Hear A Waltz? (See TSR, Summer 2015). As Charlotte, the former school acquaintance of Egerman’s child bride, she brought heft to a character that might otherwise have seemed more a plot device than a person. As it was, her Charlotte matured over the course of the evening, learning life’s lessons from her reactions to her treatment by men and beginning to develop the strength to stand up for herself as a woman of worth.
As Anne Egerman, Laurie Veldheer combined youthful features and a slight giddiness to create a charm that endeared her to Egerman despite nearly a year of celibacy. Marissa McGowan as the maid, Petra, glowed in her Act II post-coital declaration of determination, “The Miller’s Son.”
Would that “the stronger sex” had come off quite as well as the supposedly gentle one. As Fredrick, Cassidy was the only satisfying standout among the men. He was every bit as good as the ladies in his character’s world, taking advantage of each opportunity as he delivered the hopeful “Now,” the revelatory “You Must Meet My Wife,” the wonderfully sardonic duet “It Would Have Been Wonderful” and sharing the final moment of discovery with Ziemba in the reprise of “Send in the Clowns.”
However, Paulo Montalban as the popinjay dragoon failed to find the humor in Count Carl-Magnus’s humorlessness. Justin Scott Brown, as Henrik, tormented by his attraction to his stepmother was, to borrow from the dialog, gloomy where he might well have been profound.
All of this was under the direction of Mark Lamos, who previously staged Night Music at Baltimore’s CenterStage (see several articles in TSR, Fall 2008). His Maryland production featured a different cast, but this second look used many of the same design contributors. That production, however, was mounted on a thrust stage where the huge playing floor was surrounded on three sides by the audience and on the fourth by a solid cement wall. There his design concept felt appropriate in a slightly industrial ambiance.
In the Geary Theater, an ornate turn-of-the-last-century proscenium house, Lamos’s second look felt dull, a little listless and inconsistent. The quintet, typically clad in evening dress, rolled about on the floor in undergarments, intermittently wearing masks as if at a Halloween ball. Riccardo Hernandez’s set seemed stuck in dull greens, and Robert Wierzel’s lighting lacked the glow of a Scandinavian midsummer night.
Lamos retained his Baltimore staging of Act II’s banquet sans dining table, having the entire company facing the audience. And it worked just as well in San Francisco. There were several stage image coups, including the roll-on entry of Petra and Frid and the upstage hustle of Cassidy’s Fredrik.
Wayne Barker provided new orchestrations for Lamos’s Baltimore production, using a mere eight players (including himself as music director, conductor and pianist); he repeated that contribution here. In Baltimore his charts sounded full, rich and lilting. Here, at least on opening night, they seemed thin, missing the lushness Jonathan Tunick provided for the original production and the brightness Jason Carr provided with nearly as few players for the Menier Chocolate Factory revival that transferred from London to Broadway in 2009. [TSR]
In Praise of Women
San Francisco staging of Night Music had
a strong female cast