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Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

A Little Night Music
6th Street Playhouse
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's reviews of Isaac's Eye and Assassins

Phil Levesque and Tina Lloyd Meals
Photo by Eric Chazankin
A Little Night Music, now playing at Santa Rosa's 6th Street Playhouse, is chock-a-block with thwarted sexual desire in the present, and nostalgia for conquests of the past—both amorous and professional. One of Sondheim's classics (it includes his most famous song, "Send in the Clowns"), written with Hugh Wheeler, it's based in part on Ingmar Bergman's film Smiles of a Summer Night, and the source material shines through like the Nordic sun. Or rather, like the gloom of a long Scandinavian winter, for almost none of the characters are content with their lot in life, and there is an attempted suicide, a botched game of Russian roulette, and multiple attempts—but very few successes—at seduction.

Unfortunately, all this frustration has somehow seeped into the production itself, for despite Sondheim's delightful melodies, a lovely set (from scenic designer Joe Klug), and a handful of powerful performances, this production never takes wing in the way it ought to. Sondheim's music (especially the luscious harmonies that make this score one of his finest) should be light and elegant and lead the audience ever deeper into the intertwined lives of these characters, almost as a good dancer will lead their partner in a waltz on a crowded dance floor: with a quick yet graceful step, and an awareness of all that surrounds them.

Unfortunately, this cast never truly gels as a company, and they rarely seem to get the pace of a scene or a song right, plodding along when they should be galloping through a phrase or hurrying the delivery of a line that needs a pause to maximize its comic or dramatic potential. There are many lines in A Little Night Music that have the potential to be hysterical, but this cast rarely hit the comic mark.

Still, there is much to enjoy here, beginning with the score itself. Though the orchestra is a little bit loose with their playing, and the strings especially have some trouble with the harmonies, the singers for the most part do a fine job of delivering the goods. Ginger Beavers gives a tender, touching interpretation of "Liaisons," in which her character, Madame Armfeldt, looks back on the many assignations she had with royalty, bemoaning how "too many people muddle sex with mere desire" and lose sight of the fact that it can be a "pleasurable means to a measurable end." Dominic Williams (as the guilt-ridden seminary student Henrik Egerman) has a strong baritone that he can belt with confidence in a way that fits perfectly with his character, who is obsessed with sex but is a complete failure at it. His repressed desires, however, make their presence known through the passion of his singing.

Phil Levesque gives a nuanced performance as Frederik Egerman, the aforementioned Henrik's father, and the successful lawyer at the center of the story, which concerns his marriage to the virginal and much younger Anne (Nicole Stanley, who unfortunately overplays the girlish giddiness) and his former lover, the actress Desiree Armfeldt (Tina Lloyd Meals), who has come back to town with a low-rent touring theatrical company. Tracy Hinman, playing the Countess Charlotte Malcolm (whose husband is Desiree's current lover), has the strongest, clearest voice of the cast, which led me to wonder why she wasn't cast as Desiree, who gets to sing the show's signature song, "Send in the Clowns." As the maid Petra, Amanda Morando gives a delightfully saucy performance, but can't quite manage the pace of the patter in her only solo, "The Miller's Son."

Joe Klug's set is also a delight, combining moving flats, sheer curtains and columns in a manner that allows easy and elegant transitions between scenes.

It's possible that with a few more performances under their belts that the cast could come together as an ensemble and perhaps even catch up to the waltz rhythms (in both the music and the comedy) of this delightful score. But for the moment, to paraphrase that most famous Sondheim song, they are stuck on the ground when they could be in mid-air.

A Little Night Music runs through March 19, 2017, in the G.K. Hardt Theater at the 6th Street Playhouse, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa. Shows are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. (Saturday matinees on March 11 and 18). Tickets are $38 general admission, $33 seniors and youth Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday matinees, and $31 general, $26 for seniors and youth on Thursdays and Saturday matinees. Tickets are available online at, by calling the box office at 707-523-4185, or during open Box Office hours.

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