Oct 28, 2010

[Theater] A Little Night Music (Atlantis Productions)

A Little Night Music (Atlantis)When I go out to watch a movie or a play, there's a part of me that wants to have advance knowledge of what it's about and another that expects to be totally surprised. At the very least, it means that I don't like spoilers. But then I don't like going in totally blind. Or do I? It does get rather confusing even for me and it's quite the challenge trying to capture things in words.

When I opted to go see this play, I actually knew little about it beyond the fact that (1) the famous song Send In The Clowns was in it and (2) Stephen Sondheim was responsible for the music and the lyrics. Frankly that was enough to get me to go even though I had no idea what the story was about and I was totally getting the title wrong up until we actually went to see the play. So yeah, talk about limited intel prior to the mission.

Yikes, my analogies are getting all mixed up. It must be the cold meds in my system or something. My apologies.

Anyway, I'm not getting anywhere with this introduction (darn you medical side-effects!) so on to the actual review.

Smiles of a Summer NightImage via WikipediaA Little Night Music is a Stephen Sondheim musical based on the 1955 Ingmar Bergman movie Smiles of a Summer Night. This particular run was the product of Atlantis Productions, a local theater group that has dedicated itself to bringing famous musicals to local audiences. So yeah, I've sort of become an Atlantis regular in recent years given my love for show tunes and musicals in general.

Given the Ingmar Bergman plot at the heart of this story, things may get a tad confusing in terms of the storylines. Just thought I'd warn you.

Frederik Egerman (Nonie Buencamino) is a middle-aged lawyer with an 18 year old wife, Anne (Cris Villonco) and a 19 year old son Henrik (Felix Rivera). Despite being married for 11 months now, they have not consummated their marriage since Anne has chosen to protect her virginity for now. Henrik is a seminary student that people don't seem to take seriously and that the same time falls easily to the allures of the maid Petra (Alys Serdenia). As a treat, Frederik comes home with tickets for a play featuring the famous actress Desiree Armfeldt (Dawn Zulueta).

At the show, it is clear to Anne that Desiree is looking directly at their theater box, although Frederik denies this. It is eventually revealed that the two did in fact meet in the past and it was more than just a passing encounter. Later that night, Frederik sneaks out to meet Desiree and the two share tales of their current lives until they finally end up in the bedroom as a favor to an old friend. After the deed is done, they're surprised by a visit from Desiree's current affair, a married dragoon Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Jake Macapagal). After a hastily formed excuse, Frederik manages to get out of there in Carl-Magnus's night gown.

And thus the tale continues on with the various characters exploring their own complicated paths in life as they contemplate love past and present. This all comes to a head when Desiree gets her mother Madame Armfeldt (Jay Valencia Glorioso) to invite the Egermans to her estate for a weekend in the country and eventually the Malcolms learn of this plan as well.

First, I will need to reiterate that I'm a major Sondheim fan, and thus it's a lot easier for me to like this play compared to others. But as objective as I can manage to be given the context, this was definitely one of his better plays. I think this was a great demonstration of a lot of what makes Sondheim plays uniquely his such as the role of a narrator, the repeating themes and the round singing patterns all throughout. In this play it went a step further given the use of the Liebeslieders / players as the pseudo Greek Chorus in the play. They move us from scene to scene while at the same time helping us understand the thoughts of the various characters or learn more about their colorful pasts.

Dawn Zulueta was pretty impressive given she hasn't done professional theater before. Sure, I know she's a TV and movie actress but acting on a live stage is always a different experience, and in this regard she did rather well. She is quite beautiful "in person" and she projects this very well. I think my only observation of interest beyond her acting and singing abilities is the fact that she's clearly awkward with on-screen intimacy. The final kiss clearly made her feel uncomfortable and for a the show we watched it was clear she actually flinched.

I have to admit that I loved how Cris Villonco carried the role of Anne in the play. Her portrayal was so unique compared to the other characters that she really drew one's attention. Sure, you could attribute that to the writer given the character itself but overall impact is still largely the actress of course.

The rest of the cast was good, but nothing particularly noteworthy. It's not that they were bad or anything - just not exceptionally good. Naturally Petra drew the most laughs given the nature of her role. If anything, I was most impressed by the singing abilities of Teenee Chan given how she was able to stand out compared to the rest of her chorus mates. In every scene, her voice masterfully carried above the others, and so kudos to her.

Minor complaints that are inevitable in a Sondheim production are moments when it's hard to understand what the heck is going on. Inconsistent volume between the actors singing and the accompany music always causes complications plus the fact that some of the songs are pretty fast.

The last shows run this weekend so if you have a chance, go for it! I definitely recommend you see it since the play is funny, filled with great music and with amazing reminders of just how bitchy women can be.

A Little Night Music is a great weekend diversion and the kind of play that you can watch with friends or significant others. It gets 3.5 pearls of wisdom from playing solitaire out of a possible 5.

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