You’ve got to hand it to Mark Chenovick and Jen Klos at SecondStory Repertory—the theater’s current season is one of the more interesting lineups in the Seattle area, with a level of ambition that outpaces its size. SecondStory’s current production of A Little Night Music is, like most Stephen Sondheim shows, a high-risk, high-reward proposition. Some of the most sublime songs in the modern musical theater canon can spell disaster for a company or musical director not up to the task.
Fortunately, there’s no need to worry about that with SecondStory’s staging, which occasionally feels constrained by the tighter space, but is generally a proficient, delightful production. The bigger houses in Seattle sadly seem Sondheim-allergic—the 5th Avenue did a Sondheim show for four seasons straight, but there’s been none since that streak ended in 2009, and Village Theatre? Well, you have to reach all the way back to 1999’s production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. That’s all the more reason to be grateful for this production.
Director and choreographer Christopher Nardine nicely balances the ebullience and melancholia of Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s sophisticated sex comedy, a partner-switching romp that also questions the nature of love and its often fleeting qualities. The cast’s vocal chops are immediately apparent as the show opens, and the chorus-like Quintet (Shelly Traverse, Elias Traverse, Doug Fahl, Beaven Walters, and Britt Boyd) takes the stage, their disparate warm-ups blending into an overture. Throughout the show, the Quintet’s harmonies are a consistent highlight.
Micheal O’Hara is a knowing, world-weary Fredrik, the middle-aged lawyer who recaptures some of his youth by marrying 18-year-old Anne (a giddily naïve Becca Orts), a source of joy but also of frustration as she still clings to her virginity almost a year after their wedding. An encounter with former flame Desiree (Jennifer Littlefield), an actress whose star has faded, opens Fredrik up to a possibility he had long since dismissed, but there is that little matter of her blustering lover, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Josh Krupke), not to mention his own wife.
The deceptively complex ballad “Send in the Clowns”—Sondheim’s biggest crossover hit—is given a lovely rendition by Littlefield, but there’s so much more to Night Music, including the remarkably clever intertwining of “Now,” “Later,” and “Soon” and the nearly overwhelming power of Act One closer “Weekend in the Country.” Krupke’s booming “In Praise of Women” is a show-stealer, as is Kristin Burch’s breathless “The Miller’s Son.”
SecondStory’s A Little Night Music is likely to be one of Seattle’s musical theater highlights of the year. It’s on stage through March 9. Tickets are available for purchase online.