“Are you a Sondheim fan?” asked Jennifer Hubilla outside the stage door. “Yes, I enjoy Sondheim,” I responded. In truth, I enjoy all sorts of shows. I’m only just beginning to immerse myself more into the wild world of Stephen Sondheim. A Little Night Music has the typical tropes of any Sondheim show – classical driven melodies, mountains of words crammed into every line, and some kind of light-hearted dark comedy in the mix of this thing called life. The East West Players mounted the Tony Award winning shoDeb and I saw “A Little Night Music” on May 17, 2012 at the Henry David Hwang Theatre in Little Tokyo located in downtown Los Angeles. Compared to other LA theatre venues, this place has more places to eat before the show. We had dinner at Orochon Ramen right across the street. The May 17, 2012 show was Pay What You Can night. At 7PM, there already was a line forming outside of the theatre. We were lucky to grab front row center seats for the show.
We went into “A Little Night Music” not knowing what to expect. Both of us were unfamiliar with the show with the exception of Krusty singing “Send in the Clowns” on an episode of The Simpsons. This production done by the East West Players added Asian flavor to the show. This version was directed and re imagined by director, Tim Dang. The set pieces, designed by Adam Flemming, had bamboo trees that reached the ceiling adding Eastern ambiance. The show opens with the Greek Chorus (Paul Wong, Kerry K. Carnahan, Jennifer Hubilla, DT Matias, and Kristina Reyes) singing “Night Waltz.”
The story can be best described as love polygon – hilarity ensues. As simple as the plot is, “A Little Night Music” delivers charming and loveable characters, even if they are trigger happy as Carl-Magnus (Marcus Choi) and conniving as Charlotte (Tiffany-Marie Austin). The cast consists of Broadway veterans and newcomers to the stage. The ensemble’s vocals were very pleasant.”A Weekend in the Country,” one of the few ensemble songs is beautifully catchy and will stay in your head on the drive home.
Key performances included Melody Butiu as Desiree. Her rendition of the classic, “Send in the Clowns” was believable and my eyes weren’t dry. While I do not have anything to compare Melody’s Desiree to, I liked her husky and sultry vocals. Desiree was a fun character; most of the show’s humor comes from the love triangle between Carl-Magnus, Fredrik, and Desiree. The other favorite was Jon Jon Briones as Fredrik. As flawed as Fredrik is, he makes the character very likeable; Briones adds a very pinoy sense of humor to this character. His rendition of “Now” had the audience giggling. Karen Huie’s Madame Armfeldt reminded Deb of Slappy Squirrel; a crotchy old maid who’s only solace is her glamorous past. I really liked how they re-imagined her character for the show; she is an old Chinese woman confined to a wheelchair smoking a pipe and rolling her eyes at any mention of Desiree. She’s also got her flaws too (“Liaisons”), but it was enjoyable seeing her interactions with her onstage grand daughter, Fredrika (Sascha Tominaga) on stage. A very strong cast indeed!
A Little Night Music typically takes place in Western Europe during the Edwardian era. Jessica Olson did the costume design. Edwardian elements are kept in the costume and set design, yet it was an amalgam of East Asian fashion and Edwardian elegance. During Desiree show-within-a-show, she wears a courtesan’s kimono and her stage players don traditional Chinese garments. During Act 2, Anne (Katy Tang) wears a Thai dress with Edwardian elements. Also in Act 2, Charlotte wears what be best described as an amalgam of Maria Clara and Edwardian; embroidered butterfly sleeves on a light blue dinner gown. The costume choices were very nice to look up close from the front row. It certainly adds to the period and place of this Asian staging of a Sondheim classic.
If you are in the Los Angeles area, I highly recommend checking out A Little Night Music. The ensemble is a great mix of veteran and new talent; give this one a chance. Even as a fan of Flower Drum Song and Miss Saigon, it is nice to see a talented mix of Asian Americans in something different like this Sondheim classic. Though lots of the lyrics are very Sondheim-ish (ie: let’s cram as much words into the song!), it was very easy to follow along.
erica @ scarlet-rhapsody.com