A little music … a few trysts
Katey Wright and Warren Kimmel co-star in A Little Night Music, which opens at Anvil Centre Theatre on May 13. (photo by David Cooper)
“The end of Act One may just be the most brilliant piece of musical theatre writing ever,” actor Warren Kimmel told the Independent when asked about Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, which will have a limited run at the Anvil Centre Theatre, starting next week.
And Jewish community member Kimmel knows of what he speaks when it comes to musical theatre. To name only some of the super-well-known musicals he’s been in – Billy Elliot, Fiddler on the Roof, Les Misérables, My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins, Sound of Music, Beauty and the Beast.
In A Little Night Music, which takes place around the turn of the last century, Kimmel plays Fredrik Egerman, who has just married 18-year-old Anne, many years his junior. One problem is that Fredrik’s son also loves Anne. Two other problems are that Anne is reluctant to give herself to Fredrik and Fredrik hasn’t quite doused the fire that exists between him and Desiree, a former girlfriend. Then there’s Desiree’s jealous (and married) lover. “All of these trysts and twists come to a head,” reads the promotional material, “when Desiree convinces her mother to host Fredrik and his family for a weekend on her lavish estate – where the count [Desiree’s lover], with his wife … crash the party.”
“Apart from its sheer entertainment value – the incredible music and genius lyrics of Stephen Sondheim – A Little Night Music is based on a film by Ingmar Bergman – Smiles of a Summer Night – so the themes are eternal,” said Kimmel. “How do you find love? How do you find the right person to love? How do you love the person you are with? How do you get the person you are with to love you? How do you remain faithful? Should you remain faithful? Like all great works of art, it doesn’t so much speak to a modern audience as whisper and shout!”
“I don’t know if I can adequately state the importance of Stephen Sondheim and his work,” director Peter Jorgensen told the Independent. “No other single artist has thought more deeply about composition as a tool for telling stories. No other lyricist gives characters such distinctive, rich language. As a musical dramatist, he has set the gold standard for artistry and craftsmanship.”
“Sondheim has a special place in the heart of all singer/actors,” agreed Kimmel. “His material is, without doubt, the most challenging and also the most satisfying to perform of anyone in the musical theatre canon. It’s really hard to get right but thrilling every time you do. Fredrik has some particularly complicated and expressive songs, and that’s the best and worst thing about this role.”
The Broadway musical – with music and lyrics by Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler – won six Tony Awards, a Golden Globe and a Grammy. In the local Patrick Street Productions mounting of the show, Kimmel co-stars with Katey Wright, who plays Desiree.
Real-life husband-wife team Wright and Jorgensen founded Patrick Street Productions in 2007. Their mandate: “to offer great productions of great plays and musicals for Metro Vancouver, with an emphasis on contemporary musicals that have not yet been professionally produced in the region.”
“For Patrick Street Productions,” said Jorgensen, “it is important for us to program musicals that challenge conceptions of what a musical is and what a musical can do. That aspiration is never better matched than with a Sondheim musical.
“As to why A Little Night Music,” he continued, “in many ways it is similar to why Hal Prince (the show’s original director) and Sondheim chose to create the show: we wanted to program something romantic and light that had a broad appeal, but that was still sharp and biting. Hal Prince described the show as ‘whipped cream and knives.’ There is no better statement that sums up the show’s appeal than that.”
Kimmel added, “Apart from ‘Send in the Clowns,’ which is perhaps Sondheim’s best known song, A Little Night Music is not as well-known as some of his other stuff, and certainly not as well known as Phantom of the Opera or something like that, but this piece is a real gem. The end of Act One may just be the most brilliant piece of musical theatre writing ever. The brilliance of the material forces you to really step up – and everyone has. From the costumes to the lighting, from the orchestrations to the casting, the level of work and attention to detail in this production are quite wonderful. It’s just worth seeing on every level.”
A Little Night Music opens at Anvil Centre Theatre in New Westminster on May 13, 8 p.m., with previews on the nights of May 11 and 12. Show times are Wednesday through Saturday, 8 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinées May 14, 20-21. Tickets are $25.50 for the previews and range from $25.50 to $39.50 for the run; they can be purchased at ticketsnw.ca or 604-521-5050.