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Edited and Published by Robert W. McDowell

April 4, 2024 Issue
PART 1 (April 5, 2023)

A FREE Weekly E-mail Newsletter Covering Theater, Dance, Music, and Film in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill/Carrboro Area of North Carolina Since April 2001.


A Little Night Music Is a Must-See Musical, One
of Burning Coal's All-Time Best Productions

Burning Coal Theatre Company's current show, A Little Night Music, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler, is "aces" all the way!

"Imaginative" doesn't even begin to describe the bold choices made by director Jerome Davis, choreographer Genevieve "Gigi" Juras, and music director Christian Lamøy Stahr. Timing, precision, and pace are key words here, and this show scores an A+ on each.

I recommend that you arrive early, so that you can drink in the incredible details of scenery designer Xiang Li's set. (And don't neglect to notice the glass globes and period lighting fixtures hanging from the ceiling, the "cubes" on the perimeter of the stage, and the surreal painting on the floor that conjures up the Edvard Munch painting The Scream. You will, however, have to wait until the show starts to notice the oh-so-subtle beneath-the-stage lighting and to understand both why there is a pile of suitcases center stage and how they plan to act and dance under these circumstances.)

I also recommend that you take the time to read the Artistic Director's Note in the program.

Patrick Jones (violin), Bill Pashby (cello), Brent Smith (clarinet), and Christian Stahr (piano) ably provide the show's music; and they begin with a piece that accompanies an opening dance number by a Quintet of actors who will now-and-then blend into the action of the play as minor characters as well as acting as "narrators" and as "running crew." This sequence, flawlessly performed by Natalie Blackman, Melanie Simmons, Natalie Turgeon, Juan Isler, and Alec Donaldson (as Mrs. Anderssen, Mrs. Nordstrom, Mrs. Segstrom, Mr. Erlanson, and Mr. Lindquist, respectively) is well worth the price of admission.

However, I recommend that you stick around.

The Play:

According to Wikipedia: "Inspired by the 1955 Ingmar Bergman film Smiles of a Summer Night, [A Little Night Music] involves the romantic lives of several couples. Its title is a literal English translation of the German name for Mozart's Serenade No. 13, K. 525, Eine kleine Nachtmusik. The musical includes the popular song "Send in the Clowns," written for Glynis Johns."

Side Note: Because that was truly everything that I had previously known about this play, I found myself waiting to see when (as well as how) "Send in the Clowns" would figure into the plot. Let the record state: I was not disappointed.

There is a tangled web of connection between Fredrik Egerman (a middle-aged lawyer), Anne Egerman (his 18-year-old new wife), Henrik Egerman (Fredrik's 20-year-old son who is studying to be a Lutheran minister), and Petra (Anne's maid).

And that web is intertwined with an equally tangled web that includes actress Desiree Armfeldt (with whom Fredrik once had an affair), Madame Armfeldt (her mother), Fredrika (Desiree's daughter who lives with Desiree's mother), Count Carl-Magnus Malcom (Desiree's current lover), Countess Charlotte Malcolm (the Count's wife), and Frid (Madame Armfeldt's manservant).

The first act consists of a series of delightful episodes that, while entertaining in themselves, set up the second act in which all of these "ingredients" are "thrown into the pot" and "stirred" when all of these characters gather for a "weekend in the country." Excuse the pun as I continue the metaphor by saying that things really begin to "cook" and that the finished "dish" is deliciously satisfying.

This is probably the right place to mention that the personalities of every one of the characters are very shallow and quite transparent.

The Acting:

This is definitely the right place to applaud the entire cast for keeping these shallow-and-transparent characters interesting by playing them with a sufficient degree of depth.

And here I should also add that all 17 actors have great voices and that they execute the dance numbers with precision and aplomb.

Derek Robinson makes a perfect Fredrik, hitting all the right notes in the character's relationships with the others.

Alli Mae Carnes is equally on-point as Anne the "trophy wife" who has remained a virgin even after 11 months of marriage.

Ian L. Finley makes Henrik's nervous neuroses apparent right from the start, playing his character's idiosyncrasies to the hilt without ever going overboard.

Margaret Ellen Christensen invests Petra with entertaining degrees of love-of-life, sensuality, and "earthiness."

Christine Hunter makes each of the many sides of Madame Armfeldt apparent and highly interesting as well as entertaining.

Kelley Swaim Keats catches all of the nuances of actress Desiree Armfeldt (whose career is waning). Keats also infuses the character with the ability to mask a reality of "love and tenderness" with a facade of "lust and wild abandon."

Byron Jennings II has created a Count Carl-Magnus who fits perfectly into the character's relationships with both his wife and his mistress. His interactions with Fredrik fit equally well.

Sarah Lynn Winter plays Countess Charlotte in a variety of keys, thereby providing both revelation and transformation.

The above-mentioned "Quintet" actors, along with Will Godby as Frid, Devin Lackey as Bertrand, Nunna Noe as Osa/Malla, and Kai Halford as Fredrika Armfeldt all fit smooth-as-a-glove into the action, making for a masterful performance.

The Tech:

In addition to Xiang Li's above-mentioned set, technical director/master electrician Barry Jaked heads an able team that also includes lighting design by Matthew Adelson, costume design by Stacey Herrison, properties by Lynda Clark, sound design by Juan Isler, and production stage management George Waller.

Nice Touches:

Memorable Lines:

Songs That Stick in My Head:

From the Department of Picky-Picky:

All movement of set pieces and props was handled by the Quintet, except for when a cello and bow needed to be removed. Because of my foolish slavery to consistency, I found myself wondering why an assistant stage manager needed to come on stage for that. Could one of the Quintet carry it to the curtain and hand it off?

At one point, a man in modern clothing came on stage and walked diagonally across -- WTF?

As impressed as I was with the choice to use an ear horn, I was disappointed that very few people would be able to see it. Can it be made more obvious to more audience members?

The Bottom Line:

This show definitely rates as one of "the year's best" as well as one of Burning Coal's "all-time bests." A Little Night Music is a must-see musical. Make reservations ASAP, because I am sure that it will start selling out SOON.

Music director Christian Lamøy Stahr (piano), Patrick Jones (violin), Bill Pashby (cello), and Brent
Smith (clarinet) provide musical accompaniment for A Little Night Music at Burning Coal.

Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC (In Person at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 5-7, 11-14, and 18-21), inspired by Ingmar Bergman's 1955 film Smiles of a Summer Night, directed by Jerome Davis, choreographed by Genevieve "Gigi" Juras, with musical direction by Christian Lamøy Stahr, and starring Derek Robinson as Fredrik Egerman, Alli Mae Carnes as Anne Egerman, Ian L. Finley as Henrik Egerman, Margaret Ellen Christensen as Petra, Kelley Swaim Keats as Desiree Armfeldt, Kai Halford as Fredrika Armfeldt, Christine Hunter as Madame Armfeldt, Byron Jennings II as Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, Sarah Lynn Winter as Countess Charlotte Malcolm, Will Godby as Frid, Devin Lackey as Bertrand, Nunna Noe as Osa/Malla, plus The Quintet, which includes Natalie Blackman as Mrs. Anderssen, Melanie Simmons as Mrs. Nordstrom, Natalie Turgeon Mrs. Segstrom, Juan Isler as Mr. Erlanson, and Alec Donaldson as Mr. Lindquist (Burning Coal Theatre Company in the Murphey School Auditorium in Raleigh). BURNING COAL VIDEOS: STUDY GUIDE: PRESENTER:,,,, and PODCASTS: 2023-24 MAINSTAGE SEASON: VENUE: and DIRECTIONS/PARKING: COVID PRECAUTIONS: A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC (1973 Broadway and 1975 West End musical):,,, and THE SCRIPT (excerpts): STUDY GUIDE (Denver Center for the Performing Arts): STEPHEN SONDHEIM (New York City-born composer and lyricist, nee Stephen Joshua Sondheim, 1930-2021):,,,,,,, and HUGH WHEELER (Hampstead, North London, England-born playwright and screenwriter, nee Hugh Callingham Wheeler, 1912-87):,,,, and TICKETS: $30 ($5 college students with ID, $20 teachers and active-duty military personnel, and $25 seniors 65+), except $20 Thursday Special and $5 Thursdays and Fridays for students 18 and under with ID. Click here to buy tickets. INFORMATION: 919-834-4001 or PLEASE DONATE TO: Burning Coal Theatre Company.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights' Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with North Carolina Reading Service. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review.


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