'Night Music' revival resonates

Admirable intent waltzes around "A Little Night Music" at the Knightsbridge Theatre in Los Angeles. Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's 1973 Tony-winning adaptation of Ingmar Bergman's "Smiles of a Summer Night" receives a compact, notably ambitious revival.

Director Keresa McElheny and her forces are resourceful, especially Dana Moran's functional sets, Zale Morris' elegant costumes and Jennifer Copaken's imaginative choreography.

If Sondheim's gorgeous, three-quarter-time score misses Jonathan Tunick's orchestrations, musical director Bill Newlin nevertheless does yeoman work. The spare musical component affords the matchless lyrics maximum clarity by default, with the quintet of Liebeslieder commentators unusually strong.

Yet the blend of erotic sophistication and interior ache in Wheeler's libretto of romantic foibles in early-20th century Sweden registers only fitfully. A surface, indicated quality mars some key portrayals amid the respectable ensemble.

Marc Cardiff's buffoonish dragoon, Sandy Mulvihill's acidulous dragoon's spouse and Leslie Smith's earthy parlormaid are all ideal. Lisa Robert's elfin Desiree Armfeldt, however, reveals her vulnerability too soon, rendering "Send in the Clowns" anticlimactic. Richard Osborn's aging lawyer sings well but lacks convincing mileage.

As the lawyer's virgin bride and divinity student son, Aimee Barile and Jamil Chokachi play in an obviated manner that undercuts their essential aptness. Luce Morgan's Madame Armfeldt grandstands, missing the wit (and a verse) of "Liaisons." Certainly such a complex work requires more rehearsal time than the Knightsbridge repertory schedule permits. Given that, one can only appreciate this production's accomplishment, but Sondheim hard-liners should exercise caution.

-- David C. Nichols

"A Little Night Music," Knightsbridge Theatre Los Angeles, 1944 Riverside Drive, Los Angeles. Saturday, 5 p.m.; Sunday, 6 p.m. Ends Jan. 19. $16-$22. (626) 440-0821. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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