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 and a book by Hugh Wheeler, A Little Night Music was inspired by the 1955 film Smiles of a Summer Night and 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. Behind the acting area, a glassed-in area, suggests an elegant conservatory in which a small orchestra, led by Michael Tyack, five Liebeslieder singers (students from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music) and various characters during the play, can be observed rehearsing or going about their business.
When not actually involved on stage, the principal actors occupy chairs each side, observing and reacting to the action, costumed in Angela Doherty’s stylish creations which also support the ambiguousness of Bryant’s concept. It works a treat.
Bryant’s masterstroke however 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 provide many of the funniest moments in the show,
Another stand-out is Jeremi Campese, as Fredrik Egerman’s son Henrik, who impressed, not only for his ability to accompany himself on the cello for his song Now, but with his ability to garner audience sympathy with his hilarious portrayal of a serious young man coping with his burgeoning sexuality while trying to hide his love for his father’s young wife.
Charming performances by Pamelia Papacosta as Frederika Armfeldt and Kiana Daniele as Petra, round out the accomplished cast
A particular pleasure with this production is how the intimacy of the Hayes Theatre, together with clever chamber orchestra re-arrangements by Matthew Moisey of the original orchestrations, allowed every word of Wheeler’s witty dialogue and Sondheim’s sophisticated lyrics to be heard and relished.
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.
A Little Night Music
Hayes Theatre Co, 19 Greenknowe Ave, Potts Point
Performance: Thursday 2 November 2023 (1.00pm)
Season continues to 18 November 2023
Information and Bookings: www.hayestheatre.com.au
Image: The Cast of A Little Night Music – photo by John McRae