The Princeton Festival has chosen A Little Night Music directed by Diana Basmajian as its musical for 2016. The Broadway production won four Tony Awards in 1973 , including Best Musical, and was adapted for film in 1977, so it’s no wonder that the ENTIRE RUN is sold out.
The Matthew’s Acting Studio within the Lewis Center for the Arts is the venue for the musical, which is even more intimate than McCarter’s Berlind Theatre. The tickets are general admission, so there are no assigned seats; however, even in the back corner, you’ll feel as if you are part of a private performance. This is priceless for the caliber of talent you will witness!
Désirée Armfeldt (Jessica Medoff), is a Swedish stage actress in the early 1900s. She was once a renowned actress, but now reduced to touring in small towns. Désirée performed in a theater near former widower Frederik Egerman (Wayne Hu), who attended with his 18-year-old bride Anne (Jami Leonard). Upon their return home, we discovered that the couple had never consummated their marriage, and that Anne has a stepson, Henrik (James Cochran), who is a cello playing seminarian. To his disadvantage, no one takes him seriously.
The plot thickened as Frederik paid Désirée a ‘visit’, then Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Jesse Malgieri) stopped by for a ‘visit’. The Count mentioned this to his wife Charlotte (Camella Clark), who told Anne. They all ended up at the summer-house of Désirée’s mother, Madame Armfeldt (Brook Packard), along with Désirée’s illegitimate daughter Fredrika (Anastasia Zeiler) and all staff. The night was filled with pursuits. Madame Armfeldt told Fredrika in the first act that the summer night has three smiles. There’s one for the young, one for the foolish, and one for the old. You will discover to what she is referring at the end.
The music and lyrics were written by Stephen Sondheim. The songs were all beautiful, but the popular Send in the Clowns stood out. It was wonderful to have a piano quartet (piano, violin, cello, harp) performing live at the back of the stage, in addition, Cochran occasionally played cello. The Broadway voices were smooth and delightful. While this was a musical, Hu, Malgieri, Michael Kuhn (Mr. Erlanson), and Karina Sweeny (Mrs. Nordstrom) are also opera singers. It was apparent due to the tremendous depth of their voices, which added yet another magnificent layer to this production, which was topped off by strong acting.
Since this is a period piece, costumes added another element of a full opera production. Costume designer Marie Miller’s work was brilliant, and beautifully transformed the cast back to the beginning of last century. Diana Basmajian wore the hats of both director and scenic designer. Being that it was a very small stage, Basmajian had to rely on her creativity. Separating the rooms without a wall took the audience’s imagination, but using unique props as cars and spreading a tablecloth on an imaginary dining table took hers. She made scene changes as entertaining as the voices.
This was a witty and poignant story brought to life by a spirited cast. It’s amazing that The Princeton Festival can bring such a powerful production to town in a venue that makes you feel as if you are at an exclusive staging for a reasonable price. This gem is an unparalleled experience!
For those fortunate enough to secure tickets, the performance takes place at Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts in the Matthews Acting Studio at 185 Nassau Street. The building is next to Thomas Sweet, but the entrance is in the back. Parking is available in Princeton University Lot 10, entrance on William Street between Washington Road and Charlton Street. Performances are on June 16, 17, 18, 23, 24, 25 at 8 PM, and matinées on June 12, 19, 26 at 4 PM. Run time is about 2.5 hours with one intermission. A Little Night Music is suitable for ages 12 and up.