|A Little Night Music|
|original Broadway production poster|
|Basis||1955 Ingmar Bergman film
Smiles of a Summer Night
1974 West End
1989 West End revival
1990 New York City Opera
1990 PBS live telecast
1995 BBC Radio
1995 Royal National Theatre
1999 Houston Grand Opera
2002 Kennedy Center
2002 Ravinia Festival
2003 NYCO revival
2003 Chicago Shakespeare Theatre
2004 Los Angeles Opera
2008 London revival
2009 Gala Concert Reading
2009 Broadway revival
|Awards||Tony Award for Best Musical
Tony Award for Best Book
Tony Award for Best Score
A Little Night Music is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler. Inspired by the Ingmar Bergman film Smiles of a Summer Night, it involves the romantic lives of several couples. Its title is a literal English translation of the German name for Mozart's Serenade No. 13 for strings in G major, Eine kleine Nachtmusik. The musical includes the popular song "Send in the Clowns".
Since its original 1973 Broadway production, the musical has enjoyed professional productions in London and elswhere, and it is a popular choice for local productions. It was adapted for film in 1977, with Harold Prince directing and Elizabeth Taylor, Len Cariou, Lesley-Anne Down and Diana Rigg starring.
The play is set in Sweden at the turn of the 20th century. The show opens with a prologue, introducing the Liebeslieder Singers, who blend fragments of the songs from throughout the play. The other characters enter, engaged in a waltz, but all are uncomfortable with their partners. After the dance, the aging and severe Madame Armfeldt and her solemn granddaughter, Fredrika, enter. Mme Armfeldt tells the child that the summer night "smiles" three times: first on the young, second on fools, and third on the old. Fredrika vows to watch the smiles occur.
The play begins with the story of the middle aged Fredrik Egerman, a successful lawyer. He has recently married an 18-year-old trophy wife, Anne, a vain girl who is wholeheartedly in love with Fredrik, but too immature to grasp the concept of marriage. The two have been married for eleven months, but Anne still protects her virginity. Fredrik sings of his inability to make love to his wife in the song "Now". Meanwhile, his son Henrik, a year older than his stepmother, is feeling extremely frustrated. He is a seminary student and, as such, expresses his negative world view in "Later". Anne is intrigued by his actions, but fails to understand his subtext. The next morning, Anne promises her husband that she will consent to sex shortly, in "Soon". Anne's maidservant Petra, a blunt girl slightly older than the teen herself, offers her crass advice.
Meanwhile, another important character is revealed—Desiree Armfeldt, a prominent actress. Desiree is a selfish woman who allowed her daughter Fredrika to live with Madame Armfeldt. Fredrika misses her mother, but Desiree continually puts off going to see her, preferring "The Glamorous Life". She is performing near Fredrik's home, and the lawyer brings Anne to see the play. While there, Desiree notices Fredrik; the two were lovers years before. Anne is instantly suspicious of Desiree's amorous glances. Claiming to have a headache, Anne demands that Fredrik bring her home immediately. At the house, Petra has been trying to seduce Henrik.
That night, Fredrik's old memories of Desiree float to the surface. He slips out to see her, and the two share a happy but obviously strained reunion, as they "Remember". They reflect on their new lives, and Fredrik tries to explain how much he loves Anne in "You Must Meet My Wife". Desiree responds sarcastically, boasting of her own adultery—she has been seeing a married dragoon. Upon learning that Fredrik has gone for eleven months without sex, she agrees to accommodate him—a favor for an old friend.
The scene moves to the home of Madame Armfeldt, who offers advice to young Fredrika. The elderly woman reflects poignantly on her own checkered past, and wonders what happened to her refined "Liaisons". Back in Desiree's apartment, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm announces his unannounced arrival in his typical booming voice. Fredrik and Desiree fool the gullible count into believing that their disheveled appearance was entirely innoncent, but the military man is still suspicious. He instantly dislike Fredrik and returns to his wife, Countess Charlotte. Charlotte is quite aware of her husband's infidelity, but Carl-Magnus is too absorbed in his suspicions of Desiree to talk to her singing "In Praise of Women". When she persuades him to blurt out the whole story, a twist is revealed—Charlotte's little sister is a school friend of Anne's.
Charlotte visits Anne, who is talking with Petra. Charlotte describes Fredrik's meeting with Desiree; Anne reacts with shock and horror. The older woman explains to Anne that such is the lot of a wife, and that marriage brings pain in "Every Day A Little Death". Meanwhile, Desiree goes to her mother and requests that Madame Armfeldt host a party for Fredrik, Anne, and Henrik. Though reluctant, the elderly woman agrees. She sends out a personal invitation; its receipt sends the women into a frenzy, imagining "A Weekend in the Country". Anne does not want to accept the invitation, but Charlotte convinces her to do so to heighten the contrast between the older woman and the young teenager. Meanwhile, the Count has plans of his own — as a birthday present to his wife, the pair will attend the party uninvited. Carl-Magnus plans to challenge Fredrik to a duel, while Charlotte hopes to seduce the lawyer to make her husband jealous and end his philanderous activities. The act ends as the day of the party dawns.
The act opens on Mme. Armfeldt's estate, which is bathed in the golden glow of perpetual summer sunset at this high latitude with the chorus singing "Night Waltz One and Two". Everyone arrives, each carrying their own amorous purposes and desires—even Petra, who catches the eye of Mme. Armfeldt's fetching manservant, Frid. The women begin to act against each other. Fredrik is astonished to learn the name of Desiree's daughter. Henrik meets Fredrika, and confesses his deep love for Anne to her. Meanwhile, in the garden, Fredrik and Carl-Magnus reflect on how difficult it is to be annoyed with Desiree, agreeing "It Would Have Been Wonderful" had she not been quite so wonderful. Dinner is served, and the characters' "Perpetual Anticipation" enlivens that meal.
At dinner, Charlotte attempts to flirt with Fredrik, while Anne and Desiree trade insults. Soon, everyone is shouting and scolding everyone else—except Henrik, who finally stands up for himself. He shrieks at them for being completely amoral, and flees the scene. Stunned, everyone reflects on the situation and wanders away. Fredrika tells Anne of Henrik's secret love, and the two dash off searching for him. Meanwhile, Desiree meets Fredrik and asks if he still wants to be "rescued" from his life. Fredrik answers honestly—he loves Desiree, but only as a dream. Hurt and bitter, Desiree can only reveal her opinions on the nature of life through the play's most famous song, "Send in the Clowns".
At the lake on the estate, Anne finds Henrik, who is attempting to commit suicide. The clumsy boy cannot complete the task, and Anne tells him that she has feelings for him, too. The pair begins to kiss, which leads to Anne's first sexual encounter. Meanwhile, not far away, Frid sleeps in Petra's lap. The maid thinks of the joy and freedom that she longs for before becoming trapped in marriage in "The Miller's Son". Henrik and Anne, full of happiness, abscond to start a new life together. Fredrik finds out, without dismay. Charlotte confesses her plan to the lawyer, and the two hold commiserate on a bench. Carl-Magnus, preparing to romance Desiree, sees this out of her window and challenges Fredrik to play Russian Roulette, in which the lawyer grazes his ear. Victorious, Carl-Magnus begins to romance Charlotte, granting her wish at last.
After the Count and Countess leave, Fredrika and Madame Armfeldt discuss the chaos of the house. The elderly woman then asks Fredrika a surprising question: "What is it all for?" Fredrika thinks on this, and decides that it "must be worth it". Madame Armfeldt is surprised, ruefully noting that she rejected love for material wealth at Fredrika's age. She praises her granddaughter, and remembers true love's fleeting nature.
Desiree descends and now Fredrik is able to confess his love for her. The two promise to start a new life together triggering the "Finale".
In the play's quiet and powerful final moments, Mme. Armfeldt sits alone with Fredrika. Fredrika tells her grandmother that she has watched carefully, but still has not seen the night smile. Mme. Armfeldt laughs and points out that the night has indeed smiled twice: Henrik and Anne, the young, and Desiree and Fredrik, the fools. As the two wait for the "third smile", Mme. Armfeldt closes her eyes, and dies peacefully. The waltz from the opening occurs once more-but now, each character is finally with the right partner.
A Little Night Music opened on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre on February 25, 1973, and closed on August 3, 1974 after 601 performances and 12 previews. It moved to the Majestic Theatre on September 17, 1973 where it completed its run. It was directed by Harold Prince with choreography by Patricia Birch and design by Boris Aronson. The cast included Glynis Johns (Desiree Armfeldt), Len Cariou (Fredrik Egerman), Hermione Gingold (Madame Armfeldt), Victoria Mallory, Mark Lambert, Laurence Guittard, Patricia Elliott, George Lee Andrews, and D. Jamin Bartlett. It won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award and the Tony Award for Best Musical.
The 2008 Menier Chocolate Factory (London) production opened on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre in previews on November 24, 2009 and officially on December 13, 2009, with the same creative team. The cast stars Angela Lansbury as Madame Armfeldt and, in her Broadway debut, Catherine Zeta-Jones as Desiree. Also featured are Alexander Hanson as Frederik, Ramona Mallory as Anne, Hunter Ryan Herdlicka as Henrik, Leigh Ann Larkin as Petra, Erin Davie as the Countess, Aaron Lazar as the Count, and Bradley Dean as Frid.
The London production opened at the Adelphi Theatre on April 15, 1975 and starred Jean Simmons, Joss Ackland, David Kernan, Liz Robertson, and Diane Langton, with Hermione Gingold reprising her role as Madame Armfeldt. It ran for 406 performances. During the run, Angela Baddeley replaced Gingold, and Virginia McKenna replaced Simmons.
A London revival opened on October 6, 1989 at the Piccadilly Theatre, directed by Ian Judge, designed by Mark Thompson, and choreographed by Anthony Van Laast. It starred Lila Kedrova as Madame Armfeldt, Dorothy Tutin as Desiree Armfeldt, Peter McEneryas Fredrick, and Susan Hampshire. The production ran for 144 performances, closing on February 17, 1990.
In 1995, a revival by the Royal National Theatre opened at the Olivier Theatre on September 26, 1995 in a production directed by Sean Mathias, with set designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis, costumes by Nicky Gilabrand, lighting by Mark Henderson and choreography by Wayne McGregor. It starred Judi Dench (Desiree), Siân Phillips (Madame Armfeldt), Joanna Riding, Laurence Guittard and Patricia Hodge. The production closed on August 31, 1996. Dench received the Laurence Olivier Awards for Best Actress in a Musical.
The third London revival ran at the Menier Chocolate Factory from November 22, 2008 until March 8, 2009. The production was directed by Trevor Nunn, with choreography by Lynne Page, sets and costumes by David Farley and new orchestrations by Jason Carr. The cast included Hannah Waddingham as Desiree, Alexander Hanson as Frederik, Jessie Buckley (Anne), Maureen Lipman (Mme. Armfeldt), Alistair Robins (the Count), Gabriel Vick (Henrik), Grace Link and Holly Hallam (shared role Fredrika) and Kasia Hammarlund (Petra). This critically-acclaimed production transferred to the Garrick Theatre in the West End for a limited season, opening on March 28, 2009 running until July 25, 2009. This production opened on Broadway on December 13, 2009, starring Academy Award-winner Catherine Zeta-Jones as Desiree and five-time Tony Award-winner Angela Lansbury as Madame Armfeldt. Alexander Hanson again played Frederik
Zarah Leander played Madame Armfeldt in the original Austrian staging (in 1975) as well as in the original Swedish staging in Stockholm in 1978 (here with Jan Malmsjö as Fredrik Egerman), performing Send In The Clowns and Liaisons in both stagings. The successful Stockholm-staging was directed by Stig Olin. In 2010 the musical is scheduled to return to Stockholm and the Stockholm Stadsteater. The cast includes Pia Johansson, Dan Ekborg, Yvonne Lombard and Thérese Andersson.
The Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris announced a production to open in February 2010 starring Kristin Scott-Thomas (Désirée) and Leslie Caron (Madame Armfeldt). Lee Blakeley directs and Andrew George, choreographs. It was subsequently announced that Scott-Thomas will be unable to appear in the production due to a foot injury. Italian-born actress Greta Scacchi will be stepping into the role of Désirée.
The work has also become part of the repertoire of several opera companies. The New York City Opera Company presented two well received productions at the New York State Theatre in Lincoln Center, in August 1990 (11 performances), and July 1991 (7 performances). The 1990 production was telecast on the PBS show "Live at Lincoln Center" on November 7, 1990. The cast included Broadway stars Sally Ann Howes and George Lee Andrews as Desiree and Frederick, with Opera star Regina Resnik as Madame Armfeldt (in 1991).
Michigan Opera Theatre was the first major American opera company to present the work in 1983, and again in November 2009. The New York City Opera staged it in 1990 (winning the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival), 1991 and 2003, the Houston Grand Opera in 1999, and the Los Angeles Opera in 2004. Opera Australia presented the first Australian production by an opera company in Melbourne in May 2009, starring Sigrid Thornton as Desiree Armfeldt. 
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis plans to perform the work during their 2010 Spring Festival Season in June, in St. Louis, Missouri. Designer Isaac Mizrahi will direct and design the production, with a cast that stars Amy Irving, Sian Phillips, and Ron Raines.
The piece has also become a popular choice for amateur musical theatre and light opera companies.
In 1977, a film version of A Little Night Music was released, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Lesley-Anne Down and Diana Rigg, with Len Cariou, Hermione Gingold and Laurence Guittard reprising their Broadway roles. The setting for the film was moved from Sweden to Austria. Stephen Sondheim wrote lyrics for the "Night Waltz" theme ("Love Takes Time") and wrote an entirely new version of "The Glamorous Life", which has been incorporated into several subsequent productions of the stage musical. However, other songs, including "In Praise of Women," "The Miller's Son" and "Liaisons," were cut and remain heard only as background orchestrations. The film marked Broadway director Hal Prince's second time as a motion picture director. Critical reaction to the film was mostly negative, with much being made of Taylor's wildly fluctuating weight from scene to scene. Some critics talked more positively of the film, with Variety calling it "an elegant looking, period romantic charade". There was praise for Diana Rigg's performance, and orchestrator Jonathan Tunick received an Oscar for his work on the score. A soundtrack recording was released on LP, and a DVD release was issued in June 2007.
In addition to the original Broadway and London cast recordings, and the motion picture soundtrack (no longer available), there are recordings of the 1990 studio cast, the 1995 Royal National Theatre revival (starring Judi Dench), and the 2001 Barcelona cast recording sung in Catalan. In 1997 an all-jazz version of the score was recorded by Terry Trotter. Plans to record a cast recording of the 2009 Broadway revival with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury recorded a cast recording on January 4, 2010. The cast recording is set to release April 6.
The score for A Little Night Music abounds with elements not often found in musical theater, presenting difficult challenges for performers, with complex meters, pitch changes, polyphony, and high notes for both males and females. The difficulty is heightened when songs merge, as in Now/Later/Soon, because all three have to be performed in the same key, limiting the ability to pick a comfortable key for each singer.
Sondheim's engagement with threes extends to his lyrics. He organizes trios with the singers separated, while his duets are sung together, about a third person.
Another of the show's signature elements is that many songs end on a single brief note played by one or more instruments.
Passages in "Overture", "Glamorous Life", "Liaisons", "Every Day A Little Death," and "The Miller's Son" are in duple meter.
At several points Sondheim has multiple performers each sing a different song simultaneously. This use of counterpoint maintains coherence even as it extends the notion of a "round", familiar in songs such as the traditional Frere Jacques, into something far more complex.
The show's best-known and Sondheim's biggest hit song was almost an afterthought, written several days before the start of out of town tryouts. Sondheim initially conceived Desiree as a role for a more-or-less non-singing actress. When he discovered that the original Desiree, Glynis Johns, was able to sing (she had a "small, silvery voice") but could not "sustain a phrase", he devised the song "Send in the Clowns" for her in a way that would work around her vocal weakness, e.g., by ending lines with consonants that made for a short cut-off. "It is written in short phrases in order to be acted rather than sung...tailor-made for Glynis Johns, who lacks the vocal power to sustain long phrases."
There is a Mozart reference in the title—A Little Night Music is an occasionally used translation of Eine kleine Nachtmusik, the nickname of Mozart's Serenade No. 13 for strings in G major, K. 525. The elegant, harmonically-advanced music in this musical pays indirect homage to the compositions of Maurice Ravel, especially his Valses nobles et sentimentales (whose opening chord is "borrowed" for the opening chord of the song "Liaisons"); part of this effect stems from the style of orchestration that Jonathan Tunick used.