Texas Tech University

"A Little Night Music": Honoring a Legend

JD Myers

April 1, 2022

The late Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music argues for the importance of loving well, which resonates even more soundly after his passing in November. After the brilliant composer's death, the theatre world has been reflecting on his legacy. Sondheim's body of work is massive, earning 6 Tony Awards for best Musical Score, 5 for Best Musical, a Pulitzer Prize, a Kennedy Center Honor, and more. All of his works are fascinating, but A Little Night Music is one of his best. 

The dramaturg for our production of A Little Night Music, Performance and Pedagogy graduate student, Brad Frenette, discussed Sondheim's legacy with the cast and crew of our production: “Building off the Rodgers and Hammerstein model, Sondheim elevated, and in many ways reinvented, the American musical throughout his career. He sought new ways to integrate music and lyrics with the story as a whole, perhaps best exemplified by Night Music.” Sondheim's iconic rhyming structures, patter songs, and 11 O'clock power ballads are currently filling our rehearsal halls and practice rooms, spreading joy. 

Casey JoinerA Little Night Music was chosen for the 2021-2022 season's musical slot before the announced death of the legendary composer, a coincidence that director and professor Casey Joiner calls “cosmic.” The Season Selection Committee chose the musical because of the challenges it poses for our performers, designers, and yes, even audiences.

As Joiner explains, 

It's a far cry from any other material we've chosen during my time here at the SOTD. Sondheim's messages are often so murky, if not multifaceted, that I find myself wondering the more we work on this show if I even fully understand the thematic thrust of the musical. Love is...difficult? Or love is confusing, maybe? Lovers aren't innately sure who they're supposed to end up with and fate is the only true north? I'm still debating it, but after the murkiness of 2020 and 2021, this show seems to have found a fitting home on our stage.

If the multifaceted message is the engine drives the vehicle of the show, the characters and the actors who portray them are the skilled drivers. The script is filled with eccentric characters who find themselves in delightfully confusing love triangles. Fortunately, the opening monologue delivered by BFA Musical Theatre student Samara Shavrik (who plays the stately grandmother Madame Armfeldt) provides a formula for keeping up with all of the machinations in the musicals. As Madame explains, the three generations of characters in the show are the young, whom Madame claims “know nothing,” the fools “who know too little,” and the old “who know too much.” 

Portraying a member of the “young” cohort, Anne Egerman, is BFA Musical Theatre student, Mary Lantz. Only 18 years old, Anne finds herself struggling with the dynamic between her and her new middle-age lawyer/husband: “Anne is immensely relatable to college students. An eighteen-year-old woman who has recently entered a new stage in her life, Anne constantly wonders about the health of her decisions. In reality, I think Anne is a lot more anxious than most people think, hiding that anxiety behind giggles and a false sense of positivity.”

Rebecca TaylorA consistent source of that anxiety is one of the “fools,” Desirée Armfeldt. Desirée is Madame's daughter, a touring actress who harbors secretly a love for Anne's husband, Fredrik. Graduate student Rebecca Taylor portrays Desirée as to fulfill her thesis role, earning her MFA in Performance & Pedagogy. Desirée's iconic number, “Send in the Clowns,” reveals her inability to publicly share her genuine self. This is a source of curiosity for Taylor: “I have been curious about how she interacts with her world. Desirée moves through life wearing different masks for different moments, people, and places. I am excited to decipher for audiences why she hides, why she bares her soul, and what exactly makes her tick.”

Madame Armfeldt makes up the sole member of the “old” category. A courtesan in a past life, she has managed to acquire a large estate where she spends her final years playing cards and sipping wine, while her butler Frid (BFA Student David Postlewate) pushes her around the estate in a wheelchair. Shavrik believes that Madame carries the theme of family ties throughout the play: “I've always been curious about Madame Armfeldt's definition of family. Since she is a woman who places so much importance on whom her daughter and granddaughter marry, I wonder if Desirée is truly seen as less in her mother's eyes. I feel as if Madame Armfeldt likes Desirée as a person but does not necessarily love her as a mother should love her daughter.”

If the characters and score don't motivate you to pick up your tickets immediately, the design elements and choreography just might. Jared Roberts designs what Taylor calls “a beautiful three-quarter thrust, curved stage design masterpiece,“while Megan Woodard's costumes are filled with the appropriate color and vibrance to advance period and theme. Senior BFA Musical Theatre student Alexa Teleki choreographs the piece with a masterful plan to fill the intimate black-box space with dance reflective of love, age, and experience. The production boasts 20+ cast members who ferociously and playfully embrace the technical, artistic, and musical challenges of the lovely script.

Joiner believes that, at the end of the day, a Lubbock audience will be love experiencing this show at this particularmoment in time:

Sondheim's themes have longevity and moral elasticity; sometimes it feels like he's laughing at us as we struggle through conflict. His work is complex, and messy, and raw, painting characters sometimes in unattractive, harsh lights, but always with affection. And because of that, every Sondheim production is imbued with a sort of bone-shaking relief based on comic reality, knowing that sometimes the worst in us can lead to the best, that artists are complicated, and that love, even more so. We're honored to embrace Sondheim's legacy by sharing with you this lovely story, replete with music that reveals the inner lives of the characters, and, ideally, reflective of our own struggle to find and sustain love. We know you will enjoy the magic of A Little Night Music.