It’s appropriate that Theater Latté Da is staging A Little Night Music in the dead of winter, since the characters in this summer sexcapade feel about love the same way that Minnesotans feel about warm weather: desperately depressed when they don’t have it, sweaty and uncomfortable when they do.
The Ritz Theater
After last season’s bracing Assassins, director Peter Rothstein is taking it easy on his audience with his latest Stephen Sondheim selection. A Little Night Music is one of Sondheim’s breeziest and most accessible works, albeit with a melancholy undertow exemplified by the legendary composer’s best-known (and, perhaps, greatest) song, “Send in the Clowns.”
It’s delivered in this production by Sally Wingert, whose presence in the leading role of Desirée will doubtless attract droves of local theater lovers to the Ritz—particularly when complemented with fellow acclaimed veteran Mark Benninghofen, cast opposite Wingert as Fredrik. Rothstein’s entire cast is strong, but this is definitely a star vehicle in the best sense.
With Jason Hansen leading an elegant five-piece instrumental ensemble right in the middle of Joel Sass’ enchanting set, this is the kind of production that will make Theater Latté Da’s faithful patrons curl their toes in delight. Written in 3/4 time, the 1973 musical still casts its hazy spell, a sublime melding of words and music that sustains a poignantly bemused tone from its first note to its last.
Inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s 1955 film Smiles of a Summer Night, Sondheim and playwright Hugh Wheeler crafted a deliberately pathetic farce. A lawyer (Benninghofen) and his young wife (Grace Chermak) and his lover (Wingert) and her lover (Rodolfo Nieto) and his wife (Elizabeth Hawkinson) gather at a bucolic estate.
The stage seems set for slamming doors and collapsing trellises, but instead the characters decide to experiment with emotional vulnerability. Their servants (Britta Ollmann and Bradley Greenwald) laugh at their employers’ hang-ups as they roll in the grass, but even the maid’s vigorous song about seizing the day is laced with the awareness of mortality. As Desirée’s mother, Susan Hofflander makes the most of her jaded zingers.
Rothstein’s production is a fine example of the work his company does, year in and year out, to realize detailed and heartfelt productions of great musicals on the intimate Ritz stage. The show would be worth seeing just for Hansen’s luminous treatment of Sondheim’s sophisticated score: The climaxes of the polyphonic ensemble numbers are tight and thrilling, buoyed by the precision and power this music demands. (While this is a challenging show to cast, as it requires very specific vocal ranges, it would have been nice to see more diversity.)
Rich Hamson’s attractive costumes nod to the setting in fin de siècle Sweden, but the production ultimately floats free of place and time. Wingert and Benninghofen visibly delight in the opportunity to sink their seasoned teeth into these iconic roles, and the result is everything you would hope.
A Little Night Music
345 13th Ave. NE, Minneapolis
Through March 3; 612-339-3003
The Ritz Theater