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Canberra Today 13°/15° | Monday, December 4, 2023 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

‘A Little Night Music’ proves a big surprise

The cast of “A Little Night Music”. Photo: John McRae

Musical Theatre / “A Little Night Music”, Hayes Theatre Company. At Hayes Theatre, Potts Point, until November 18. Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

WITH “Sweet Charity”, his inaugural production for the tiny Hayes Theatre, Dean Bryant demonstrated how classic musicals could be invigorated, even rediscovered, by stripping away everything unnecessary to the core premise of the show.

Now, nearly 10 years later, by returning to Stephen Sondheim’s preference for choosing actors over perfectly trained voices to bring his songs alive, Bryant’s created this gem of a production, crammed with memorable performances and unexpected nuances.

With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, “A Little Night Music” revolves around the complicated love-life of several couples. Originally set in Sweden around 1900, Bryant has deliberately made the timing and locale for his production ambiguous. 

Jeremy Allen has designed a beautiful setting in which most of the acting takes place on a small, raised, blue-and-white tiled stage. A gilded settee and occasional tables are the only furniture. 

When not actually involved on stage, the principal actors occupy chairs each side, observing and reacting to the action. 

Bryant’s masterstroke is placing the character of Madame Armfeldt at the centre of his production. Portrayed stunningly by Nancye Hayes, after whom the Hayes Theatre is named, Madame Armfeldt sets the tone and pace of the production, dominating it with her elegant, restrained performance as the wise old dowager who’s seen it all. 

Hayes’ interpretation of “Liaisons” in which she joyously recalls her own romantic adventures, is a highlight, while her silences and meaningful looks are as powerful as her impeccably delivered lines, as she wryly guides her young granddaughter, Frederica, through the chaos and confusion caused by the shenanigans surrounding the energetic love-life of her famous actress daughter, Desiree.

Similarly, the casting of Blazey Best as Desiree is a revelation. Best’s interpretation of Desiree is original and brilliant. Earthy, funny and thoroughly captivating as the famous actress, the toast of the town as “Hedda Gabler”, but at home, revelling in her own sexuality, much to the disdain of her celebrated mother. Best commands the stage throughout. 

Desiree’s confusion, when events force her to reflect on the effects of her actions on other lives, is masterfully interpreted by Best, climaxing in a genuinely moving interpretation of the most famous song in the show, “Send in the Clowns”. 

As Desiree’s former lover, the lawyer, Fredrik Egerman, Leon Ford offers a superbly wrought comedic performance. His duet with Desiree, “You Must Meet My Wife”, following his disclosure that his young wife, Anne (charmingly portrayed by Melanie Bird), is still a virgin after 11 months of marriage, is another highpoint in this production. 

Equally entertaining is Joshua Robson as the peacockish Count Carl- Magnus Malcolm, whose own wife, Charlotte (Erin Clare), while outwardly accommodating, seethes with jealousy over his continuing affair with Desiree. The interaction between Fredrik Egerman and Carl-Magnus Malcolm provides many of the funniest moments in the show. 

“A Little Night Music” has always been acknowledged as a musical theatre classic. This jewel of a production, brilliantly re-imagined, superbly mounted and wonderfully performed, will remain a treasured memory for all those fortunate enough to see it during this much too short season. 

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