Review: A Little Night Music at Pasadena Playhouse Is a Splendid Musical Done to Perfection

Merle Dandridge stars in the beloved Sondheim musical.

Michael Hayden and Sarah Uriarte Berry appear in A Little Night Music, directed by David Lee, at Pasadena Playhouse,
(© Jeff Lorch)

A Little Night Music at the Pasadena Playhouse is a patisserie of tantalizing treats. A flawless cast transports audiences to turn-of-the-20th-century Sweden for a “delightfully droll” weekend in the country with youths, fools, and the elderly basking in the moon of the summer nights, with an intricate score that only Stephen Sondheim could conger; and Hugh Wheeler’s book manages to be witty without turning the story into a sitcom.

Based on Ingmar Berman’s 1955 film Smiles of a Summer Night, A Little Night Music revels in the absurdity and indulgence of love, featuring mismatched lovers seeking their real soulmates. Fredrik Egerman (Michael Hayden) has married a friend’s 18-year-old daughter, the virginal Anne (Kaley Ann Voorhees), while his more age-appropriate son, Henrik (Chase Del Rey) also lusts after his new stepmom.

But Fredrik has rekindled a romance with a famous actress, Desiree Armfeldt (Merle Dandridge), while Desiree’s own suitor, the pompous Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Ryan Silverman) seethes. Because the count’s wife, Charlotte (Sarah Uriarte Berry), is a mere possession to him, he forces her to insinuate herself into this folly, so that her own husband can have unfettered access to his mistress.

Overseeing the puppets of this universe are Desiree’s daughter (Makara Gamble) and her elderly mother (Jodi Long), a salty invalid who once made her living seducing royalty. The ludicrous situations are reflected by the Greek chorus of opera singers (Georgia Belmont, Jared Bybee, Kim Dawson, Oriana Falla, and Arnold Geis) who repeat the musical motifs.

Sondheim’s score is opulent. Beginning with “Soon/Later/Now,” a counterpoint trio for Fredrik, Anne and Henrik, where they separately and then in unison decry their sexual frustrations, the composer asserts the score’s complexities. For the Greek Chorus, “Remember” and “Night Waltz” remark on the frivolity of human relationships, while the show’s hit song “Send in the Clowns” clarifies that the fools are fully aware of their foibles. Act 1 ends after a rousingly hilarious collision of agendas in “A Weekend in the Country.”

Merle Dandridge plays Desiree Armfeldt in A Little Night Music, directed by David Lee, at Pasadena Playhouse,
(© Jeff Lorch)

Dandridge is irresistible as Desiree. Her singing voice is splendid, her comic timing is astounding. Hayden makes Fredrik seem small and inconsequential, until his dealings with his one-true-love inflate him in those moments with Desiree. As the young lovers, Del Rey and Voorhees perfectly capture the innocence and frustration of first love (particularly when it’s not with the one to whom you’re betrothed). Silverman is hilarious as the entitled, bullish Carl-Magnus. Long, as the supercilious madame of the mansion, drips with condescension but also makes her role regal and worthy of respect. As is often the case with the role of Charlotte, Uriarte Berry steals the show, tossing her stinging lines like sharpened daggers.

David Lee directs this production with panache. He lets the ironies of the score and book bounce around the stage. The sets by Wilson Chin bring the bourgeois homes to life. For a show so focused on the moon, Jared A. Sayeg’s lighting replicates the changing moods of the day. Kate Bergh’s costumes are lavish gowns — Desiree’s red, beaded cocktail dress with fringe shoulders stands out beautifully — and majestic suits. Darryl Archibald leads the singers to precise pitch while Alby Potts conducts a vibrant orchestra.

A splendid musical done to perfection, A Little Night Music is a gem, glittering in the moonlight. As part of Pasadena Playhouse’s celebration of the late Sondheim, this production does him proud.

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