They made it look so easy.
All those high notes, pitch changes, and the complex polyphony in “A Little Night Music” make it crazy challenging. But the University of Arizona student actors in the Arizona Repertory Theatre’s production of the Stephen Sondheim musical waltzed right through it with barely a hitch.
The play opened to a packed house at the Marroney Theatre on Wednesday. Here’s what we found:
This is the first full production new faculty member Miranda Crispin has directed for ART. Her staging allowed the audience’s focus to stay on the right characters even while all sorts of other activities were on stage. Her simple choreography made those who aren’t dancers look as though they were gliding with ease. She brought clarity, made sure the humor was nicely played, and pulled out some fine performances from the students.
There is some incredible talent at the UA. The acting and, especially, the singing, were polished, professional and often powerful.
Charlie Hall was tender and befuddled as Fredrik Egerman, an older man with a younger wife and a longing for his marriage to be consummated.
Desiree Armfeldt, a world-
weary actress with a rich history of lovers and an ache in her heart, was wry and sensual in Audrey Roberts’ hands.
Taylor Pearlstein gave Anne, Fredrik’s young and silly wife — with a desire for new clothes but none for her husband — an innocence and frivolity.
Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm and his wife, Charlotte, provided much of the comic relief. Micah Bond was spot-on with his portrayal of the heartless, buffoonish and madly jealous count, and Sarah Ambrose showed a cool command of comedy in the role of Charlotte.
Josh Dunn’s Henrik, Fredrik’s son in love with his stepmother, Anne, nicely shaped a youth consumed with and seriously conflicted by his passion for her. Jamie Grossman convincingly played Desiree’s wise-beyond-her years daughter, Fredrika, and Grace Kirkpatrick’s turn as the elderly, wheelchair-bound Madame Armfeldt was a hoot.
Adding a naughty bit of spice and a keen humor was Sarah Bartley as the lusty maid Petra.
It seems so wrong to call the quintet of singers just a chorus. They served as a sort of Greek chorus, underscoring and narrating. This quintet — Aaron Arseneault, Brian Klimowski, Cecilia Iole, Carolyn Fluehr and Sydnee Ortiz — was packed with voice and acting talent. The music drowned them out in the first number, but a balance was quickly reached and we got to hear them in their full glory through the rest of the show.
Sondheim’s biggest crossover hit, “Send in the Clowns,” has been performed by so many, from the actress Glynis Johns, who played Desiree in the original 1977 production, to Catherine Zeta-Jones, who was a rather flat Desiree in the 2009 Broadway revival.
Thanks to Youtube, the different versions are all over the place. So no matter what Roberts, the UA’s Desiree, does, someone is likely to be unhappy. And we were. She talked/sang it and infused the song with a bitterness and anger, rather than the longing and disappointment that we think it calls for.
The turn-of-the-last-century gowns designed by Richard W. Tuckett were elegant and flowing and were almost characters in themselves.
And in the end …
“A Little Night Music” is a brilliant musical. Sure, there were little imperfections in the production, but mostly it glowed. Arizona Rep is up to the task of staging it with heart, humor, solid acting and some glorious singing.
Do yourself a favor: go see it.