Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music enchants theatergoers

Annika Ellwanger-Chavez, as Desiree Armfeldt, sings Stephen Sondheim’s show-stopper “Send in the Clowns” to Taubert Nadalini, who plays Fredrik Egerman, in “A Little Night Music.” Seminary student Henrik Egerman (Dorian Tayler) plays the cello as his young stepmother, Anne Egerman (Maxine Phoenix) listens. Brooke Lewis, Julianna Keller and Chas Conacher (as Mr. Erlanson), from left, in mid-song. The challenging music and lyrics are by musical theater legend Stephen Sondheim. Countess Charlotte Malcolm (Katie Pimentel), left, complains about her husband to Anne Egerman (Maxine Phoenix). Camille Langston plays the role of Madame Armfeldt, a woman who is proud of her many past romantic liaisons. Countess Charlotte Malcolm (Katie Pimentel), left, and Anne Egerman (Maxine Phoenix) wear “motoring” outfits as they arrive for their weekend in the country. Former lovers Fredrik Egerman (Taubert Nadalini) and Desiree Armfeldt (Annika Ellwanger-Chavez) reconnect at her mother’s country house in Sweden. The blowhard Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Connor McCreary) has the brain of a pea, says his lover, actresss Desiree Armfeldt (Annika Ellwanger-Chavez). The second act takes place in the country home of Madame Armfeldt, with personal complications and dramatic revelations. The musical, originally directed on Broadway by Harold Prince, was directed by USC School of Dramatic Arts alum Kelly Ward. Petra (Molly Chiffer) sings “The Miller’s Son,” a song about her various marital choices. Petra (Molly Chiffer) and Frid (Kyle McLaughlin) share a romantic moment outside the Swedish country house. Sarah Rosenthal, left, plays the young Fredrika Armfeldt, who lives with her grandmother, Madame Armfeldt (Camille Langston) – both of them are wise beyond their years. The cast and crew includes a student stage manager (Alex Rehberger) and students heading up scenic design (Lea Branyan), costumes (Marly Hall), lighting design (Justus Bradshaw), sound design (Danielle Kisner, Stephen Jensen).

Everyone knows “Send in the Clowns,” the Stephen Sondheim song with the beautiful melody and puzzling lyrics, but not so many have seen the musical for which it was written.

The musical, A Little Night Music, presented by the USC School of Dramatic Arts, has nothing to do with clowns or a circus. Its theme was suggested by Smiles of a Summer Night, a film by Ingmar Bergman about affairs and lost loves in Sweden.

The production has five more performances this week, from the evening of April 7 through a matinee on April 10.

The Bing Theatre production boasts sumptuous costumes (designed by student Marly Hall), an evocative set (by student Lea Branyan with lighting design by Justus Bradshaw), and a typically demanding Sondheim score sung with ease by actors from the School of Dramatic Arts, the USC Thornton School of Music and the general student population.

Directed and choreographed by Dramatic Arts alumnus Kelly Ward, an actor, producer and director who works for Disney Television Animation, the production features a live orchestra of 23 musicians.

Ward writes in his director’s note that the Sondheim score “is endlessly enchanting. One can listen to the score “over and over and never run out of new discoveries, whether they’re delightfully deft turns of phrase or slyly symbolic musical quotes of the great Romantic composers.”