Authors: Stephen Sondheim & Hugh Wheeler
At: Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: 773-404-7336 or GreenhouseTheater.org; $25-35. Runs through: July 8
Musicals are the brazen flirt at the party who charms the room with memorized banter and a killer look, buttressed with layers of shapewear. Or, they are the keynote speaker, insisting to a flock of junior executives that they too can achieve wealth and success with a little elbow grease.
Musicals want you to forget the hard work and precision that it takes to craft a production like Boho Theatre's A Little Night Music. However, with this intimate staging, director Linda Fortunado and music director Tom Vendafreddo invite audiences to take a magnifying glass to observe the cracks in their evening's plaster.
So much credit is due to the workhorse cast, amazing chamber quartet and artistic team who clearly put their whole hearts into a lively night of humor, intrigue, and sadness. We may clearly see the buttress at times, but this ensemble is no stranger to musical theater's other secret weapon: a good song can make your audience forget flubs and dropped lines in an instant.
It's 1900, and Fredrik ( Peter Robel ), his young, still-virginal new wife Anne ( Rachel Guth ) and moody adult son Henrik ( Jordan Dell Harris ) are all stuck under one roof, in a state of perpetual romantic frustration. When Fredrik's old flame Desiree ( Kelli Harrington ), a renowned stage actor, appears and gladly obliges to a tryst, their indiscretion leads to social chaos. Word gets out to Desiree's other lover, count Carl-Magnus ( Christopher Davis ), his unhappy wife Charlotte ( Stephanie Stockstill ) and back to a devastated Anne. Desiree's mother Madame Armfeldt ( Marguerite Mariama ) and teen daughter Fredrika ( Isabelle Roberts ) sign on for a leisurely gathering at their sprawling estate, intended to clear the air between Fredrik and Desiree, but when everyone else gets wind of it, the whole house of cards threatens to flutter into oblivion.
For the casual degradation they receive in the libretto, the women of A Little Night Music do the heavy lifting and transporting of audience spirits. Kelli Harrington, though younger than you'd expect, is magnetic as Desiree. Rachel Guth brings more layers to ground a typically flighty Anne, and I've never understood Charlotte so well as I have from Stephanie Stockstill's aching yet hilarious performance. As Madame Armfeldt, Marguerite Mariama keeps things very quiet and understated, which has the power to make you lean in closer.
What tipped the scales for me was the very effective, inclusive and somewhat sexually fluid chorus featuring Nicole Besa, Rachel Klippel, Emily Goldberg, Lazaro Estrada and Ross Matsuda. And I'd be lax if I didn't mention Teressa LaGamba as Petra, who can deliver a rousing pep talk to any crotch, regardless of gender. Their bursts of joy power through the dull moments that could use sharpening.