Love, its pleasures and its thorny complications form the basis for Stephen Sondheim's revered musical A Little Night Music, opening Aug. 10 in a new production by Four Seasons Theatre at the Overture Playhouse. While at times achingly poignant, it's also comedic.
Says director Tony Trout, "The characters are absurdly resentful of each other, trying to steal away the affections of each other left and right. It's almost a bedroom farce: Who's sleeping with whom, and how are they going to get away with it? It's very funny, and [Sondheim's] lyrics are the funniest part of all."
Founded in 2005, Four Seasons has built its reputation doing classic musicals such as West Side Story, Evita and South Pacific, as well as concert evenings highlighting famed composers like Cole Porter and Irving Berlin.
Sondheim, one of the all-time greats of American musical theater, presents a particular set of challenges and rewards for both performers and audiences. "He is the best combination of intelligent musical theater and entertaining music," says Trout, who also directed Four Seasons' 2011 production of My Fair Lady.
"It's very complex for musicians to perform - the changes in meter and key, the harmonies and pitches, the incredible high notes - but one combination he has is that he writes the music and the lyrics, which are incredibly witty."
Set in Sweden at the turn of the 20th century amid the summer solstice, A Little Night Music starts off with unhappy couples who must figure out and express their discontent. They're constrained by Victorian notions of propriety and social masks that they must wear - and the consequences those masks bring.
The show features a cast of nearly 20 and a full orchestra of almost 30, the majority of them professional musicians or grad students.
Several performances will feature pre-show talks in the Rotunda. On opening night, Wisconsin Historical Museum costume curator Leslie Bellais will present "Victorians' Secrets: The Revealing History of Women's Underwear."
On Aug. 12, 17 and 19, Ph.D. student Bethany Wood will speak about "Creating A Little Night Music: The Historical Context and Original Production of Sondheim's Award-Winning Musical."
The show debuted on Broadway in 1973 and has endured in part because of songs like "Send in the Clowns," which has been recorded by countless musicians over the years (it was a hit for Judy Collins twice in the '70s).
Sondheim's lush music will fill Overture's intimate Playhouse while Hugh Wheeler's script keeps audiences musing on love and the bargains we strike. "If you're nerdy and literary and like something sophisticated and funny," says Trout, "this show will really appeal to you."