Theater Reviews

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Segerstrom Stage, Costa Mesa, Calif.
Through Oct. 7

It's been almost 35 years since "A Little Night Music," suggested by Ingmar Bergman's "Smiles of a Summer Night," opened at the Shubert Theatre on Broadway, and it remains an irresistible charmer. Like its heroine Desiree Armfeldt, Stephen Sondheim's miracle shows its age with good-natured reluctance, willing to take its chances with those who fall under the musical spell.

The charms work particularly well in this new production because director Stefan Novinski and cast are careful to listen to and note the first nervous laughs and responses of the audience for whom they gradually craft a customized performance, as only performers in live theater can do. Perhaps the second act has to be paced quickly -- there are lots of loose ends to be tied up -- but it's too bad that the resulting sense of undue haste seems to sacrifice the blushing touches of sensuality that make a performance of this blush-inducing story unforgettable.

Following in the footsteps of many wonderful stars, Stephanie Zimbalist as the gracefully aging, yet still desirable Desiree headlines a magnificent cast, her summary smiles serving as the outward signs of her deeply treasured memories. Her singing might not dominate the stage with its power and frequency range, but it has a wonderful human quality that creates an aura with each word.

But even a Desiree as magnificent at Zimbalist can't carry the show alone. Without Mark Jacoby's masculine-voiced, beautifully articulate, charismatic lawyer Fredrik, the story would have no core. Without the vulnerable performances of Joe Farrell as Fredrik's son, his voice breaking whenever he thinks of love, and Carolann Sanita as their adorable love-starved new wife-stepmother, the story would stall before the first chord.

The other odd couples are equally well served. As the count and countess who stray into the line of fire, and fire some shots themselves, Damon Kirsche is impossibly handsome, tall and splendid, while Amanda Naughton nearly steals the show more than once with her acerbic asides, her more front-facing assaults and surprisingly powerful enveloping warmth.

As the matriarch of the Armfeldt clan, Teri Ralston is a riot from her maverick beginning to her sad end. Katie Horwitch as her granddaughter projects a wide range of bubbling skills, both as a performer and as an adolescent transforming into a woman before our eyes.

Without Misty Cotton bringing down the house with "The Miller's Son," her impersonation of the perky, pert and pretty Swedish maid Petra combining the luscious looks of Mary Stuart Masterson and the cantankerous attitude of a young Marjorie Main, this particular "Little Night Music" would have been much the poorer.

Without the five who constitute the singing, waltzing Greek chorus -- Ann Marie Lee, Tracy Lore, Kevin McMahon, Christopher Carothers and Karen Culliver -- the audience would not be ready for the infectious attitude with which the company relentlessly plays.


A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC
Presented by South Coast Repertory
Credits:
Music-lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Book: Hugh Wheeler
Director: Stefan Novinski
Musical director: Dennis Castellano
Set designer: Sibyl Wickersheimer
Costume designer: Shigeru Yaji
Lighting designer: Christopher Akerlind
Sound designer: Drew Dalzell
Choreographer: Ken Roht
Casting: Joanne DeNaut
Cast:
Desiree Armfeldt: Stephanie Zimbalist
Fredrik Egerman: Mark Jacoby
Anne Egerman: Carolann Sanita
Countess Charlotte Malcolm: Amanda Naughton
Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm: Damon Kirsche
Petra: Misty Cotton
Henrik Egerman: Joe Farrell
Madame Armfeldt: Teri Ralston
Fredrika Armfeldt: Katie Horwitch
Frid: Branden McDonald
Mrs. Anderssen: Ann Marie Lee
Mrs. Segstrom: Tracy Lore
Mr. Erlanson: Kevin McMahon
Mr. Lindquist: Christopher Carothers
Mrs. Norstrom: Karen Culliver
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