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July 6, 2012

TT: Lost illusions

In today's Wall Street Journal drama column I review a Chicago-area show, Writers' Theatre's superlative revival of A Little Night Music. Here's an excerpt.

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When Writers' Theatre, a Chicago-area company that operates out of a 108-seat house, announced that it would try its hand at "A Little Night Music," I decided at once to go, and can now report that William Brown, who directed the company's unforgettable 2011 revival of "Heartbreak House," has outdone himself. While first-class small-house stagings of "A Little Night Music" are no longer rare, this one tops them all.

A-Little-Night-Music-Stephen-Sondheim-Writers-Theatre-2012-Jonathan-Weir-as-Fredrik-Egerman-Shannon-Cochran-as-Desiree-Arnfeldt-credit-Michael-Brosilow.jpgKevin Depinet, whose long list of memorable design credits includes Chicago Shakespeare's "Follies" and the Goodman Theatre's recent revival of "The Iceman Cometh," has conjured up the simplest of sets, a two-step platform framed by elegant-looking curtains. The wide-open playing area is a pebble's throw from the audience. As a result, the members of the cast never have to exaggerate: Not only is every word audible down to the last "and/or," but every thrown-away gesture registers like a pistol shot in a walk-in closet. Mr. Brown's exemplary actors can thus scale their performances down to the point where you feel as though you're not hearing Mr. Sondheim's songs so much as overhearing them. Moreover, the sheer sexiness of "A Little Night Music" (which is, among other things, a musical about the difference between sex and love) comes across with breath-catching directness.

Such a presentation demands a cast whose members are capable of taking full advantage of their close proximity to the audience. Mr. Brown has assembled a team that is uniformly up to the challenge. It's no slight to her colleagues, though, to say that Shannon Cochran, who plays Desirée Armfeldt, the much-bedded actress who longs for a bit of quiet comfort in her middle age, is the brightest star of the night. Ms. Cochran, who was stunning in Long Wharf Theatre's 2006 revival of "Private Lives" and the 2008 production of "The Lion in Winter" that introduced me to Writers' Theatre, proves to be a first-class singer as well. You'll never hear a more powerfully affecting performance of "Send in the Clowns," or be more touched by the way in which she chastises to the idealistic Henrik (Royen Kent) with the gentle disillusion of a woman who knows too much....

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Read the whole thing here.

The trailer for Writers' Theatre's A Little Night Music:

Posted July 6, 2012 12:00 AM

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