MSU Theatre and Dance Presents Sondheim's "A Little Night Music"

Apr 4, 2017

Missouri State University Theatre and Dance presents the Stephen Sondheim musical "A Little Night Music" in collaboration with the MSU Opera program, April 6-9 in Coger Theatre.
Credit (Poster design courtesy Missouri State University Theatre and Dance)

The Missouri State University Theatre and Dance Department will present Stephen Sondheim's musical "A Little Night Music" April 6-9 in Craig Hall Coger Theatre. 

MSU Coordinator of Musical Theatre Robert Westenberg says the show, set in Sweden around 1900, depicts “a group of people who have misplaced their love lives, and are living with regrets and trying to solve those problems.  It’s whimsical, and it’s very Swedish—it has a European sensibility to it.  It’s extremely sophisticated.”  “A Little Night Music” is based on the mid-1950s film “Smiles of a Summer Night” by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, telling the story of several couples who have gathered for a weekend at a lavish country estate in mid-summer. 

When I call it “a very sophisticated sex farce,” Westenberg agrees. “That’s a very good way to put it.” He adds, “It has that sort of ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ sense of intoxication and perfumed air, and people being subjected to forces that are stronger than themselves, passions that are unleashed in the country.”

Sarah Harding plays the female lead, the once-successful actress Desiree, in MSU’s production. She calls Desiree “by far the most complex character I’ve ever had the opportunity to play.  She is witty, intelligent, and very at ease in the presence of an audience, loves to perform. But when she’s in the company of people she’s close with, she’s a whole different character: she’s raw and intentional, and just very real. When she’s with her daughter, when she’s with Fredrik (her former lover)—as we see later in the show—she just becomes a different kind of person.”

This is Robert Westenberg’s second time directing this show, and he says he’s “come to appreciate more and more how beautifully structured it is, because every character has a very specific arc and very specific journey.”

The story is advanced through witty Hugh Wheeler dialogue and a sophisticated Stephen Sondheim score, written almost entirely in ¾ waltz time. The score spun off an unlikely Top 40 hit, the famous ballad “Send in the Clowns.” Says Westenberg, “Some people have trouble figuring out what the song is about” when it’s heard outside the confines of the show “When you dig deep, it’s a stunningly brilliant song.  It is absolutely perfect for the moment.” But, he asserts, the entire show is full of such musical moments. “It’s one jewel after another.”

MSU’s “A Little Night Music” production features an on-stage ensemble of 18 and a full orchestra directed by Dr. Amy Muchnick—“you need all those strings,” says Westenberg. The production is being mounted in collaboration with the MSU Opera program, because the show requires “legitimate” voices.  In some ways it’s more operetta than Broadway musical; in fact, according to Westenberg, the very title of the show ties it to Mozart. “You can’t forget that it’s still a comedy, but there’s melancholy and regret in it... and redemption and joy and all those things.”

Sarah Harding again mentions the range of emotions her character, Desiree, experiences. “One of the best things about getting to play this character is getting to laugh with people onstage, and then also having these moments of heartbreak, and watching someone walk out of your life and thinking they’re going to be gone forever. And then we get to see that moment of redemption at the end.  And it just makes it all worth it.”

“A Little Night Music” will runThursday through Saturday April 6-8 at 7:30pm and Sunday the 9th at 2:30pm in Coger Theatre.  Tickets range from $12 to $18 and are available at 836-7678 or at www.missouristatetix.com.