A Little Night Music – Palace Theatre
There was a quote in my programme for the 40th anniversary concert of ‘A Little Night Music’, which read that the show, ’takes things ‘back to basics’’. Strip away the spectacle, the set and special effects, and here we have one of the most extraordinary theatrical events that I have had the privilege to be at attendance for.
This celebration of ‘A Little Night Music’ has only been rehearsing for just over a week. Even on the day of the performance itself, it was the first time the cast and orchestra ran the production on stage. Knowing this, I was not expecting the most technically advanced or attuned production. I was right. The ‘set’, if you can call it a set, was essentially a black curtain and 8 chairs on stage, with the orchestra on stage behind the chairs. And there were various sound and microphone problems throughout. However, the audience never asked for a technically advanced production. We attended in order to reminisce solely on the music and the plot.
Despite this, there was still a sense of sophistication and quality in the production, which leads me to the high standard of this cast. Performances by Joanna Riding and Anne Reid were fantastically dry and humorous, with classic one-liners spoken with blank facial expressions. In other words, putting the majority of the cast rightfully in their places. Even to have someone like Anne Reid MBE on stage sent shivers through this audience of thespians, including the likes of Derek Jacobi.
The relationship between Desiree (Janie Dee) and Fredrik (David Birrell) could not have been cast better. Dee’s maturity in her voice and speech-singing was magnifying, especially in her performance of the timeless ‘Send in the Clowns’. After she sang this, several members of the audience left which made me think that they had come solely to see that song being sung live, showing the power that it has on listeners. Burrell plays Fredrik magnificently too, both in his acting and connection with Dee, as well as vocally in numbers such as ‘It Would Have Been Wonderful’ and ‘You Must Meet My Wife’.
Fra Fee, however, left me feeling underwhelmed. Having seen him as the title role in Candide at the Menier and hearing him sing at the top of his tenor range with ease previously, it was a shame for him to lose his voice at the worst possible moment for the performance, with moments of him singing weakly in his head voice.
Nonetheless, having never seen ‘A Little Night Music’ before this performance, it has truly become one of my favourite musicals. This is a show for grown-ups, in its maturity of style, sophistication and themes of love and affairs in the plot, alongside Sondheim’s timeless score. Whilst his music is not made to have ‘hooks’ and instead focusing on driving the story forward, this makes ‘A Little Night Music’ all the more intelligent.
To be a part of the audience of the 40th anniversary celebrations was something I will never forget. Considering the little rehearsal time, the elegance of this production and the high quality of the cast, as well as the 29-piece orchestra, made this a fantastic event. My only regret was I was ‘perpetually anticipating’ Sondheim’s arrival on stage, as I’m sure everyone else was too…
Reviewed by Barry O’Reilly
Photo: Darren Bell