A Little Night Music Sends in More Than Clowns at IRT

The famed musical saw flourishes of brilliance on opening night of the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s latest production.

A Little Night Music is a musical

four decades young built around the Desiree Armfeldt character. That’s good, as Indiana Repertory Theatre’s production of the show is itself built around the star wattage of Sylvia McNair, two-time Grammy Award winner, Indiana University masters grad, and current Jacobs School of Music teacher. Normally a nomad betwixt lovers, Desiree has just that—a desire, subtly stoked, spoken, and sung—to settle down (finally). A native Ohioan, McNair has sung in most every house of note nationwide and globally, adopted the Hoosier State as home, and, per various interviews, relishes this time in her life.
I said this is a young musical because A Little Night Music‘s transparent theme is timeless: Comically bad people engage in alternately rosy and fatalistic relationships at all levels of society. You might suppose that, based on tune titles such as “Every Day a Little Death” and “The Sun Won’t Set.” But of course “Send in the Clowns” is the benchmark here, and it arrives fluidly and without fanfare. McNair sings it beautifully, never straying into the operatic territory she’s well versed in as some other divas of the stage are sometimes prone to do. She holds this version close to her chest, caresses it in lieu of force-feeding it to her audience. The weight—yea, the wait—of Desiree’s aging viscera is apparent here. Her heart is tired. McNair makes “Clowns,” recently performed by Catherine Zeta-Jones on Broadway, her own. It’s a resigned, lovely performance. Obviously, I cannot say enough.
If that song is the centerpiece, it is bolstered by wry turns of phrase, both barked as dialogue and sung as passageways to the next plot device. The scenes these characters find themselves in are chock-full of physical comedy, aloof parents (and partners), and naive youth (and, again, partners). The relationships become a game of truly musical chairs. But it’s all funnier and more endearing than is, say, the stage play Closer. (Of course, what’s not?) “A Weekend in the Country” ended with glorious, full-throttle notes from the company that sent the show to intermission with a smile spread on every face present.
On opening night, Jan. 25, a couple of the physical-comedy bits resulted in misfires, but amusingly so, for Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm: Near the end of Act 1, he stumbled between a pair of slender “trees” only to find a wire connecting them in line, stunting his progress. Then he caught a face-full of the dress his wife, Countess Charlotte, was wearing when she leaped into his arms not far from the show’s end. In both instances, the snafus perfectly matched the Count’s own personality, that of a would-be suave adulterer. To that end, the Count (Glenn Seven Allen) succeeded admirably, even if his singing voice was the least of these. Meanwhile, Jacquelynne Fontaine‘s Countess portrayal remained fetching perhaps to the show’s expectedly-uptempo finale. That’s in part because she sings wonderfully, is clad exquisitely (as is McNair) in Linda Pisano’s gowns, and receives the bulk of the best lines to sling verbal darts at her companions. Most notably that’s in the comedy of errors that is a dinner party in the rustic-yet-majestic home of Desiree’s mother, Madame Armfeldt (played by Fontaine Syer, channeling Downton Abbey‘s Maggie Smith for all her regally fiendish worth).
The youngsters here performed capably: Grace Morgan‘s Anne Egerman, ruddy-haired teen bride to James Rank‘s Fredrik, sang with lush abandon and then bridled heartbreak. The Henrik Egerman character (Nicholas Fitzer), Anne’s similarly-aged stepson, provided the bulk of the dopey physical comedy—those sad-eyed, poetic looks!—at least until the revelation as the show pulled up its reins for his romantic fortunes’ reversal. What’s more, the company was a wise-eyed crack quintet of voices, well blended and laden with personality when each took the lead, or a solo.
If this is a young-at-heart musical, it’s still not postmodern. Loose ends are tied up, one way or another, and even the clowns get a reprieve. It’s the getting there that asks, sharply and yet politely, to be relished. Let it be.
Show times vary through Feb. 16. $35 to $55. 140 W. Washington St., 317-635-5252, irtlive.com.

Photos by Zach Rosing courtesy Indiana Repertory Theatre