Until last night, my experience and knowledge of Steven Sondheim’s work has been limited to demon barbers, bits and pieces of West Side Story, and a very vague remembrance of a song that had something to do with Clowns. So, I figured it was about time I rectify this, with a trip to Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre for A Little Night Music in Concert. Like with my trip to The Pajama Game, I was unfamiliar with the story and I eventually decided not to listen to any of the songs, so I could listen to the music and watch the story unfold with fresh eyes and ears. This is where I’d like to say a huge thankyou and congratulations to Alex Parker (Producer & MD Extraordinaire), Alistair David (Choreographer), Alastair Knights (Director) and their wonderful 31 piece orchestra for bringing such a talented group of performers together and breathing great life, warmth and energy to their vision of the show, I was reminded that you don’t need tons of props in order to tell a story and create atmosphere, all you need are an awesome group of people to give those lyrics and characters and the situations they find themselves depth and meaning, and a wonderful orchestra to bring the music to life… and boy oh boy did we have that here in bucket loads!
The thing I love about Sondheim’s work is its ability to move me on so many levels. It can make me think and often move me tears but also, as I discovered last night be incredibly amusing. To me, the hearts of his stories are all incredibly ‘natural’ in that they are all about relationships and those desires that can drive us. I love this natural element, and of course it is made all the more profound and effective by Sondheim’s use of counterpoint and ¾ (waltz) time, it was a lesson for my unenlightened and untrained ears all these stunning harmonies often made me think ‘oh gosh I don’t know which awesome voice to focus on’, but not for a minute did it detract from my enjoyment, on the contrary it kept me engaged and involved with every single character and each of their interlinked stories. Now to the cast!
My first mentions of this cast must go to the awesome Scott Garnham, Lisa Anne Wood, Jenna Boyd, Nadim Naaman, Joe Richardson & Kimberly Blake as Mr Lindquist, Mrs Anderssen, Mrs Segstrom, Mr Erlanson, Frid & Mrs Nordstrom, respectively. The 6 of them created such a fabulous sound that gave me chills from their opening notes and each number they were involved in (my favourite being Remember?) rang with such power and energy, I loved how their voices blended together!
David Birrell was one of the new faces I encountered, and will say I really hope it won’t be the last time I have the chance to see him on stage. He has a really powerful voice and played Fredrik Egerman with a great sense of charm and sincerity, I loved his delivery of Fredrik’s more comical lines, particularly during Now, his face and body language spoke volumes. When the show was in its early stages, I remember being unsure of how I was meant to be feeling about Fredrik as a character, given that he’s going through such conflicting emotions: trying to work out how he really feels about Anne, but at the same time not so subtly longing for Desirée. My knee jerk reaction would have normally been: ‘Geez man, man up and just make your mind up and go be with her, will you?’ but instead thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the journey David took Fredrik on, watching it slowly but surely build to it’s expected (yet wholly satifying) happy ending and was absolutely smitten with him by the end. His chemistry with Janie Dee was most excellent and I was just longing for them to be together, their rendition of You Must Meet My Wife had me grinning throughout.
Janie Dee was another new face for me and can’t really think of anything else to say beyond I loved her performance. Her Send In The Clowns moved me to tears and like with David’s Fredrik I loved the depth and charm she gave to Desirée, particularly in maintaining a loveable sense of the actress her character is, fantastic presence and delivery of witty remarks on point throughout.
Anna O’ Byrne was one of the performers I’d been longing to see live after falling in love with her interpretation of Christine in Love Never Dies. She was everything I hoped for and more, bringing a sense of joyful naivety to Anne Egerman that I revelled in, and was utterly superb vocally. The slow developing of Anne’s realisation of her feelings towards young Henrik was really a pleasure to watch and as with Fredrik & Desirée I was willing them to be together. Here, Henrik was played superbly by Fra Fee, who like Scott, I was ecstatic to be seeing on stage again after the two gave me so many awesome memories during their time in Les Mis. Henrik is generally solemn and thoughtful, and Fra played this brilliantly. There were also moments of real angst and sadness that broke my heart- brava Fra!
Laura Pitt- Pulford gave a sublime and charming performance as Petra. Her solo number The Miller’s Son blew the roof off, and her Petra had a great sense of humour and wisdom about her. Bibi Jay as Fredrika gave a really confident performance and totally held her own with all the adults. Madame Armfeldt, Julia Sutton was like Laura’s Petra, a great blend of comic timing and wisdom.
Simon Bailey was our Count Carl- Magnus Malcolm, stepping in for Hadley Fraser. I say stepping in, but you’d honestly never have had the faintest idea. His portrayal of the Count was perfectly arrogant and like with David’s Fredrik, I marvelled at how he could make such subtle gestures like the way he held himself or moved his hands say so much about how his character was feeling or what he was thinking. The duet It Would Have Been Wonderful with Fredrik was a highlight of the evening for me, it was great to see the tension and banter between these two men competing for Desirée’s affections radiating off them in spades- never before have I heard the phrase ‘Sir’ carry so much wonderfully charming bitterness. His rendition of In Praise of Women was an absolute belter! Awesome to see him again after three visits to The Phantom of the Opera tour where he was a fantastic Raoul.
Joanna Riding… how I adore her. If you’ve read my previous blog about my joyous trip to Pajama Game, you’ll already have some idea of how much she blew me away but my good god she did it tenfold as Countess Charlotte Malcolm. Her comic timing was faultless and she had me in stitches on numerous occasions, particularly when the Countess got rather drunk at dinner. Humour aside, she was amazing vocally and I really felt for her during Every Day A Little Death. The reconciliation of the Count & Countess was probably my favourite resolution in the show, it induced many an ‘Awww’ from me and I felt all warm and fuzzy when they kissed.
It was a stunning evening- the songs are still going round in my head and I can’t congratulate and thank all involved enough, both for an incredible evening and their time afterwards.