Excerpts from Reviews of “A Little Night Music”
“Enchanting Productions is emerging as an exciting addition to the Ōtautahi musical theatre scene. Their debut production of A Secret Garden was well received and well attended, but tackling Stephen Sondheim’s 1973 Broadway blockbuster A Little Night Music seemed an ambitious leap for a fledgling company. Thankfully, this leap of faith is an absolute success, lifted by the strong core cast, and a fitting celebration of the late, great composer.
A Little Night Music features some of Sondheim’s most challenging songs. The characters’ torrid romantic entanglements are expressed in complex layered contrapuntal duets, trios and quintets. Director Louise Glossop must be commended for her fine casting choices here.
The always outstanding Ali Harper is radiant in the central role of Desiree. Her songs are perhaps the least demanding in the show but ‘Send in the Clowns’ is the highlight of the night. Harper’s luminescence is matched by an impressive line up of professionals in the other lead roles, many of whom will be familiar to followers of musical theatre.
Jonathan Densem (Fredrik), John Bayne (Carl-Magnus), Katie Atkins (Anne) and Amanda Atlas (Charlotte) demonstrate extraordinary vocal ability in their confident renditions of Sondheim’s tricky intertwining reprises and harmonies. Densem and Atkins are particularly adept when handling the lyrical inner monologues, while Bayne’s booming baritone is so perfect for the jealous dragoon, I can imagine Sondheim looking down and nodding his approval.
This is a confident, secure rendition of one of Sondheim’s most popular musicals. Christchurch light opera fans are lucky to have world class performers and musicians here, and to be able to enjoy them for an affordable ticket price. Absolutely enchanting.” – Ruth Agnew
Backstage Christchurch – Theatre Reviews:
“On a cold, dark winter’s evening, going out for a night out at the theatre can be a pretty big ask, especially if you’ve become as much of a hermit as I have. A Little Night Music in The Arts Centre, though? Featuring some of my favourite local musical theatre performers? I immediately pounced upon the opportunity, and what a wonderful night of music it was, too!
The smaller space of the Great Hall is just the right size for the cast and the orchestra, both of which are fewer in number than is commonly seen in Broadway hits, and the effect is one of pronounced intimacy. Given the intimate, personal nature of A Little Night Music’s plot, this is very fitting indeed. Sondheim’s classic musical is a close look at a collection of closely interwoven romantic and sexual relationships, highlighting the messy and complex dynamics that emerge between spouses and lovers, ex-lovers, and would-be lovers. The primary characters are caught in a series of love triangles that may be better represented by a set of Tantrix game tiles, and when they are thrown together for a weekend in the country their passions threaten to overthrow them entirely.
The first of these triangles to be introduced is within the Egerman family. Fredrik Egerman, played with great suavity by Jonathan Densem, has taken a very young second wife named Anne (Katie Atkins). Unhappily, Fredrik’s son Henrik (Alex McHugh), a staunch devotee of Martin Luther, has fallen completely and hopelessly in love with his new stepmother. McHugh makes Henrik’s moral and emotional torment palpable, contrasted with devastating effect against Anne’s perpetual, airheaded chirpiness. Atkins is quite maddening as Anne, teasing and coquettish, but endearing in her childishness. Her crystalline soprano soars in those wonderfully intricate layers of melodies that Sondheim wrote so well. With such a lightness to her, it is clear to see how Anne could ensnare the devotion of both Henrik and his father.
The growing tension between the three Egermans is brought to a head by the arrival of the sophisticated, irresistible diva Desiree Armfeldt, performed exquisitely by Ali Harper. Fredrik was once a lover of Desiree’s, and their former passion for each other is rekindled when they meet again for the first time in years. Desiree is everything that Fredrik’s young wife is not: clever and witty where Anne is merely sincere, knowledgeable where she is naïve, and deeply sensual where Anne is uncomfortably virginal. However, even when faced with Desiree’s magnificence Fredrik is unable to put aside the strong affection he feels towards his wife, and Densem portrays this inner conflict with good humour and infectious sympathy.
Desiree is the heart and the powerhouse of A Little Night Music, and Harper absolutely dazzles in the role (visually as well, in a stunning evening gown designed by Tina Hutchison-Thomas). Her presence onstage is magnetic, as is her vocal skill. For most of the show, Desiree is finely polished in her expression; Harper plays this off effortlessly, setting herself up for an even more poignant reveal of Desiree’s vulnerable side in her moving rendition of “Send In The Clowns”. The chemistry between Harper and Densem is like static electricity: not flashy, not unexpected, but soft and fizzing and impossible to sunder. Their ease with each other as performers makes us long for their characters to find a happy ending together, as unlikely as that may seem to be.
The competing romances, however, do not stop there, for Desiree already has another lover who stands in the way of her relationship with Fredrik: Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm. Carl-Magnus, played by John Bayne, is as antithetical to Fredrik as Desiree is to Anne. While Fredrik is intelligent, urbane, and charming, Carl-Magnus is a consummate military man, rigid in his thought and action. Even Bayne’s movement brings to mind a clockwork soldier, ticking along with perfect precision and minimal consideration. The Count is himself not a particularly pleasant character (he would never be so unnecessarily frivolous), but watching and listening to Bayne thrust himself into the role with this much relish is, as Anne might put it, “delicious”.
Countess Charlotte Malcolm, performed expertly by Amanda Atlas, is a perfect foil for her husband. My personal opinion is that Charlotte has the best lines in the show (the dialogue is satisfyingly reminiscent of Oscar Wilde), and Atlas absolutely nails the delivery every time, delighting the audience as much with her dialogue as with her singing. She fills every note of her performance with depth and emotion, building a character who is paradoxical but very compellingly so. Her troubled relationship with her husband and his mistress, and her almost-budding friendships with Mr and Mrs Egerman, give Atlas a lot of emotional material to work with.
Such romantic tangles are impossible to go unremarked on, and A Little Night Music features commentary from several different sources. Desiree’s jaded mother (Jane Keller) and her daughter Fredrika, who is played alternately by Madeleine Glossop and Sophie Landis, provide outside wisdom and framing for the tumults of the plot. Keller’s confident vocals and gravitas give her a powerful stage presence, even as she is limited in her movement by a wheelchair, while she heartily disdains Victorian modernity. In the first performance Fredrika was acted by Sophie Landis, who sparkles in the role with precocity and earnestness.
Another perspective that’s more closely involved with the romances is that of Petra, a servant in the Egerman household. Catherine Hay is captivating in the role, flirting with a number of other characters in an expression of sexuality unencumbered by the emotional ties that make the other lovers’ situations so fraught. Hay’s charisma pulls the audience right in, and her vocal performance is riveting—her solo number “The Miller’s Son” was absolutely a highlight for me.
Linking together the potentially disjointed scenes into a cohesive whole is the chorus—it is very much a Greek chorus, moving through the action without engaging in it and providing a through line of the show’s themes with melodic motifs. Consisting of Blair McHugh, Tara Martin, Shannon Hurley, Scott Christie, and Elizabeth Ellison, this chorus appears to reflect the nebulous pairings of the primary characters in the ever-changing combination of members appearing together. They underpin the performance with ease and elegance, delivering skillful performances which add depth to the show.
It is, as you can possibly tell by the length of this review, hard to narrow down the many delights of this production of A Little Night Music. It’s fun, sexy, and romantic—enchanting is, in fact, the perfect description. There is so much talent on display here, and it would be an absolute tragedy to miss out on it. The run is only a week long, so you’ll need to act fast! Go on, treat yourself to a little wonder this winter.” – Jordon Jones
“An independent small-scale production. Great. All for small-scale productions. Which is what this show really is. The production was apparently COVID-crushed at the same time that I was crushed and was now revived being for four performances at the venue called The Piano.
On to the theatre. Goodness, I was expecting a room with chairs around it. The Piano is a splendid venue of ?350-400 raked seats ... I get the feeling it is largely intended to be a concert venue .. and as such it would surely be the best in town. It reminded me of the London Purcell Room. I also get the feeling that it would be best for un-amplified performances.
Open stage, very basic scenery (who cares about scenery?), with the Armfeldt mansion at the rear and a series of screens allowing quick and efficient scene changes.
And we began. The quintet sounded absolutely super, if a little loud (which damages the cohesion). Where did they get those voices from? Where are they when I go to other productions in our area? Splendid!
Well, I won't go through the piece item by item. Most of the numbers (and the dialogue) were sung and played as well as in most international and fully professional productions I have seen.
Ali Harper, acknowledged as 'New Zealand's National Treasure', more than confirmed that crown as Desirée. I have seen Taina Elg (lovely!) and Jean Simmons as Desirée. Ms Harper has wiped away all those memories ... in Christchurch, NZ???? Am I doing the provincial gush? (The Titipu Players production was much better than Broadway's ..') No, I am not. I don't. This was a performance of choice that wouldn't be out of place on any stage on the world. Her last lines of 'Send in the Clowns', beautifully lit and dressed, were gobsmacking. Her by-play behind Fredrik Egermann in 'You Must Meet My Wife' was a masterly piece of understated acting ... well, enough. I have gone into ecstasies over this lassie's performances before ... but this is her best ever.
Her Fredrik was Jonathan Densem. And he was delightful. His wry, twinkling, gently humorous performance was right on the button, and his vocals were (for me) just the right weight. An 'easy' performer is such a joy. When he came on 'dying' I was reminded of Cullum in ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY ... now there's a next project for Enchanting Productions!
It is possible to come out of an LNM performance remembering only the Big Bits. For me, the biggest Bit of the whole show is the Soon/Now/Later trio. And tonight it got a grand performance.
The other two participants, with Fredrik, in that trio were Ann and Henrik, the two most difficult roles to cast in this show. Well, the Christchurch NZ semi-pros got it soooooooo right. My previous Henriks have been young boys cast for the top note and lots of Angst. Here we had a Henrik (Alex McHugh) who looked as if puberty was past and now pressingly painful, a young man not a boy, who negotiated the high notes unoperatically and super-effectively and ... he actually played the 'cello!!!!! Oh! Hallelujah!
And what to say of Ann (Katie Atkins). A perfectly clear soprano voice (one or two blurts I blame on the sound system) a perfect teenage appearance, an enthusiastic acting performance ... This young lady has a future.
Elsewhere, Amanda Atlas gave a richly vocal and incisive acting performance which lifted the role of Countess Charlotte (who can appear an awful wimp) into a prominence I've never known it to have before. I see she is an experienced opera singer. I'd love to see her as Countess Palmatica in Bettelstudent! Total joy.
Jane Keller took the important role of Madame Armfeldt. Ms Keller is, I see, a noted singing teacher. So we didn't get a Hermione Gingold grunted-rather-than-sung performance .. to my delight we got a magnificent deep contralto, bang-on-the-note performance.
I am no judge of Carl-Magnuses. The role was created in New York by my dear friend Larry Guittard and I can't see past that. It, too, is a hard role, for Carl-Magnus is a fairly one-dimensional creature. John Bayne looked every inch the dragoon, strutted the part well and sang lustily.
Catherine Hay gave Petra's song with a fine voice, which didn't quite erase memories of Geraldine Turner in Australia, 100 years ago, Maddie Glossop was grand and unaffected in the key role of Fredrika.
Direction (Louise Glossop) straightforward and clean, the way I prefer it. No gimmicks. Jason Carr's fine re-orchestration for a band of five (hello, Jason!), precise musical direction.
You only take the trouble to pick-a-little over details when the production is worth it. And this one is worth it in spades. This was a truly splendid night in the theatre ... hopefully the magical folk behind Enchanting Productions will give us more of the kind ... and hopefully this production will have a future ... it deserves one more than anything I've seen in New Zealand since ... well, since Ali Harper's TELL ME ON A SUNDAY.”