Confession time: I’d never seen A Little Night Music until last night’s concert performance at the Palace Theatre. On the basis of this, though, I’d love to see a full West End production. A superb on-stage orchestra and a first-class cast made the experience an unforgettable one.
Inspired by the Ingmar Bergman film Smiles of a Summer Night, the musical – with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Hugh Wheeler – was originally produced in 1973, and has been revived in the UK and the US since. This concert production marks the 40th anniversary of the 1975 West End production of the show.
It’s hard to pick out any particular performers as worthy of praise, as they were all superb, including the chorus. David Birrell played Fredrik and sang wonderfully; I also liked Fra Fee as his son and loved Anna O’Byrne as his young, naïve wife Anne. If I had to pick a favourite it would probably be Janie Dee, whose performance as the actress Desiree was warm and witty and whose rendition of “Send In the Clowns” was heartbreaking. Jamie Parker was hilarious as the misogynistic, idiotic and cruel Carl-Magnus and Joanna Riding shone as the Countess. I also loved Anne Reid, whose character, Madame Armfeldt, had some of the best lines of the evening, and Laura Pitt-Pulford as the maid Petra, who has comparatively little stage time but whose song “The Miller’s Son” in Act 2 was a triumph.
The show passed off without a hitch, except for a brief moment when microphones were switched off and a missed cue by Janie Dee towards the end – which was actually a brilliant moment as her first line once the music resumed was “is this a farce?” Incredibly impressive considering that the performers only had a week to rehearse. The production got a well-deserved standing ovation from a packed-out Palace. Certainly one of my theatrical highlights of the year so far.