Thursday evening brought an introduction to the City Theater Company for their production of A Little Night Music. As show #54, this may win my year-end award for “most pleasing surprise” of my theatrical pursuits this year. I walked in expecting a modest production in a black box theatre space, and I (and other audience members, I hope) received a robust and well tuned fully realized stage interpretation.
I was glad to not be overly familiar with the play, though the song Send in the Clowns has become deservedly iconic. From their production history, it seems that this company takes pleasure in interpreting Stephen Sondheim. Previously, they have featured Into the Woods, Company, and possibly at least two other shows by him. I wouldn’t say that the shows were/are a vanity project, as the energy and focus of the cast exuded professionalism. I was quite taken by the bouncy costumes of the ensemble, changing to fit the different moods of the two acts. However, I agree with a local reviewer who felt that the costumes might have been too modern; I didn’t get a good sense of the time period the creators intended to evoke. On a technical note, the visible presence of the orchestra (off to the stage right side of the main characters) was pleasant, but also distracting at times to see the conductor’s hand raise up a few moments before a song began – as opposed to letting the actor guide the audience into the song. I certainly know these things can’t be perfect in a black box setting, and am merely noting it from the audience experience.
A well trained and evenly balanced cast gave unexpected depth to the storyline. In contrast to my recent experience comparing Delaware’s All My Sons cast to their Broadway cousins, this time I was relieved and impressed by the naturalism of Karen Murdock in the central role of Desiree. The part doesn’t need to be played by someone with the glamour of Catherine Zeta Jones, and if it’s not, I would say it’s more believable. In looking at the production history, I’m reminded that Judi Dench played Desiree (when Dench herself was in her early 60’s) in a 1995 London production. And it’s interesting to see that Diana Rigg was featured in the supporting role of Charlotte in the 1977 film version, which I’d like to see!
While reviewing the production history, I notice a coincidence. The most recent Broadway revival (November, 2009 – January, 2011) had in fact originated at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London, a notable Fringe theatre that opened during my first stint of living in London in the fall of 2004. While I regrettably never saw a show at the Menier, this theatre-going experience (Thursday night in Wilmington) strongly reminded me of their aesthetic, location and production ethos: putting on a deceptively simple production of a usually elaborate show, in a small venue that might be known for something else, close to an elevated railroad and near the banks of a river.
So, is Wilmington on the way to becoming an American London?!