By Alexandyr Kent
The Shreveport Times
River City Repertory Theatre's new production of Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music" conjures up the seductive power of formal wear.
Set in early 20th century Sweden, the musical tells the story of Fredrik, a rich lawyer who is married to Anne, a virgin bride who is decades to his junior. Since they haven't consummated their marriage (11 months into it), Fredrik looks for a distraction.
Fredrik's guilt-ridden son, Henrik, helps make it possible. Though Henrik is a divinity student, he discovers his feelings for his stepmother, Anne, are stronger than his understanding of Martin Luther.
Fredrik, meanwhile, rekindles a relationship with Desiree, a famous, well-dressed actress he hasn't dated in 14 years. Desiree, though, is not entirely free to have the affair. She is already having one with a Count, whose wife is devastated.
The true nature of what these wandering lovers want comes to the surface when Desiree's mother invites them to her country estate for a weekend. They flirt, duel and find that pursuing a love that's worthy is about more than just chasing a mysterious suitor.
Director Patric McWilliams, who also designed the austere sets and elegant costumes, weaves together a brilliant tapestry of misguided desires. He helms a great show packed with powerful performances, wonderful music and dreamy visions of romance.
McWilliams' designs are rendered exquisitely by lighting designer Mike Riggs, technical director Joshua Porter, scenic artist Debra Hicks and the entire crew.
Robert Buseick, who sewed the costumes, deserves a set of diamond-tipped needles. The women in the production are transformed into leisure-world goddesses whose alluring complexities are stitched into elaborately patterned gowns.
John Gayle and Seva May share potent chemistry as Fredrik and Desiree. They play their love game as calloused cynics who don't stop to spare others' feelings because indulging their own feels too good.
May wears Desiree's costumes well and uses them effectively. During a reunion in her bedroom, Desiree turns her back to the crowd and briefly drops her gown over her shoulders to reveal herself to Fredrik. The gesture is elegantly played and instantly shrouds the romance in mystery. We can't define the force that draws them together, but we see that it is partly scandalous, playfully trusting and a little vulnerable.
It also doesn't hurt that the pair's voices are perfectly suited for the lyricism of Sondheim. Their skills are beautifully displayed for "Send In the Clowns."
Ellen Lindsay and Jonathan McVay play Anne and Henrik, the young lovers plagued by taboo passions. Lindsay often wears a nervous smile. It adds a mix of naivety and curiosity to her role as the young bride who must risk the security of being the faithful wife.
McVay often explodes in angst-ridden fits of youthful idealism. Whether playing the cello too sadly or scolding his father for loving so carelessly, Henrik stands as a young man who fully resents his tendency to feel in extremes.
Lindsay and McVay are superb singers, too, and their performances for "Soon" and "Later" are standouts.
Bill Gallmann and Janin Pou are perfect as the pompous Count and resentful Countess. Loving to hate one another is their specialty, and it could hardly look more addictive.
Other great performances include Heather Bryson as the sultry maid, and Jodie Glorioso as the sooth-saying Madame Armfeldt.
Musical director, Kermit Poling puts in outstanding work conducting the live orchestra. As performers slip from spoken dialogue to sung melodies, the music makes Sondheim's musings on the nature of love and fidelity sound spontaneous, but never poeticized.