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Production of Sondheim numbers demonstrates theater's talent
By JULIE MCHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic
September 24, 2015
WAUKESHA - Versatile, edgy, clever, unusual, creative, humorous, moving - all these words and more cannot fully describe the music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim. Unlike many composers, his music is difficult to classify.
There is definitely a certain atonality about it at times, atypical intervals, even dissonance, but then you hear "Send in the Clowns," and he belies his own style.
The Waukesha Civic Theatre has proven its mastery of the musical in its recent productions of "Les Miserables" and "The Sound of Music," to name a few, but it may have even surpassed them both in its staging of "A Little Night Music," a piece that even the pros find challenging.
The opening overture introduces us to five strong vocalists and six orchestral musicians who set the quality of the whole production. Their splendid turn-of-the-century costumes and the soaring rendition of "Night Waltz," via Jessica Maxwell, Joshua Parman, Gwen Ter Haar, Meaghan Guterman and Brett Hanisko establish what’s to come. This quintet of singers joins the ongoing story regularly to provide transitions and emphasize main turning points in the plot, almost acting as a Greek chorus.
Fredrik, masterfully played by Joe Nolan, has recently lost his wife and rather hastily married Anne, an 18-year-old virgin (Pamela Niespodziani), who has proven to be more of a problem than a consolation. His son Henrik, a seminarian, is a rather nerdy young man, clueless as to his own sexuality, and quite moralistic in his judgment of others. He definitely provides some humor, thanks to the talented Jake Andrejat’s astute take on the character.
Another character who provides some intrigue and conflict is the aging actress Desiree (Elizabeth Bagley), a woman with whom Fredrick once had an affair and is still attracted to. When they meet again after many years, she is with another married man, Carl Magnus, a jealous, blustery man who fancies himself more than his wife and his mistress do. Carl-Magnus and his wife Countess Charlotte are both memorably rendered by Brant Allen and Carrie Gray. His "In Praise of Women" and her "Every Day a Little Death" are standout solos.
Speaking of standout solos, I must mention "The Miller’s Son," by the maid Petra (Morgen Aria Clarey) and Madame Armfeldt’s "Liasons," so poignantly delivered by the aging mother of Desiree (Mary Bryant). Both women give sterling performances. But the most beautiful song in the whole show is "Send in the Clowns," which provides the climax of this show when Fredrik and Desiree realize that they may have finally gotten their timing right.
The ensemble numbers, "A Weekend in the Country" and "The Glamorous Life," are good examples of Sondheim’s sense of irony. One has to smile as one realizes over and over again how often our expectations are poorly replicated by reality. Our longings move us forward but too often in unfulfilling directions.
Set designer (Jim Padovano), costume designer (Sharon Sohner) music director (Nicolas Buendia) and overall Director John Baiocchi, along with a host of other actors and technical assistants, all deserve high praise.
What a wealth of talent we are surrounded by.
A romp tinged with heartache
By Hannah Klapperich-Mueller
Posted: Sep. 23, 2015
The audience for the opening night performance of Waukesha Civic Theatre’s A Little Night Music was given a glimpse of how the night smiles when looking on a group of people doing what they love. The performers’ enthusiasm is contagious, frequently spilling over to joyful laughter in the audience. Voices may not be equal across the board, but the cast is fortunate to have musicians, led by Music Director Nicholas Buendia, who navigate deftly through Stephen Sondheim’s score.
The story follows the trials and victories of three Edwardian-era couples, each wading through difficult discoveries about love. Laughs are plentiful at the characters’ expense, but the show goes beyond silliness in the storyline between Fredrik Egerman (Joe Nolan), a respectable lawyer, and his former lover, famous actress Desiree Armfeldt (Elizabeth Bagley), uncovering a deeper layer of sincerity about lost chances and the wounds time opens rather than heals.
The women of this cast truly establish the shimmering, lavish world, beyond the elaborate dresses and wigs. Particular delight springs from the dryly comic performances of Carrie Grey as the pompous Carl Magnus’ cuttingly witty wife, and Mary Bryant as a Maggie Smith-esque Madame Armfeldt.
The moments of simple staging play most effectively, allowing the story and song to flow easily. Bagley’s rendition of "Send in the Clowns" glows in its simplicity, a moving moment that takes her performance to new heights. Similarly, "Liaisons" and "Every Day a Little Death" are high points for their clean, elegant presentation. In the same manner, the clever tri-sided set design by Jim Padovano effectively delineates the various locations of the story without cluttering the stage.
Expect at least a little of A Little Night Music to stay with you; even those experiencing it for the first time may find themselves humming snatches of song for days afterward.
By Marilyn Jozwik - WaukeshaNOW Theater Critic
Sept. 22, 2015
There is a new vibe at Waukesha Civic Theatre to start its 59th season.
Before the show, a big screen on stage projected images of past plays, WCT supporters and staff through the years, a reminder to silence devices and other interesting facts — something new for 2015-16.
There also seemed to be more energy in the big crowd on opening night, even before the actors took the stage to begin Stephen Sondheim's sexy and sophisticated "A Little Night Music."
If this show is any indication of the season ahead, it's going to be a good one.
Under the direction of John Baiocchi and music director Nicolas Buendia, Waukesha Civic Theatre handled the wit, charm and, most of all, music, effortlessly.
From the moment the elegantly attired performers attempted to explain the paradoxes of love ("Love is a lecture on how to correct your mistakes") in the opening number, the haunting "Night Waltz," it was apparent this was something special. The costumes (Sharon Sohner) and handsome, streamlined set with its red and blue tiled floor were visually stunning, plus the orchestra sounded better than ever with top-notch string and reed musicians. There was an ethereal, delicate, fantasy-like quality to the performances, set design (by Noah Silverstein) and music, like looking through gossamer angel's wings.
The story — set in Sweden at the turn of the century — revolves around a beautiful, aging theatrical star, Desiree Armfeldt (Elizabeth Bagley), her mother (Mary Bryant), daughter (Alexis Furseth) and her two lovers — Fredrik (Joe Nolan), a prominent lawyer, and Count Carl-Magnus (Brant Allen).
The intertwining plots play out like a soap opera — middle-aged Fredrik has married 18-year-old Anne (Pamela Niepodziani), who is attracted to Fredrik's slightly older son Henrik (Jake Andrejat), a frustrated seminary student; Petra (Morgen Aria Clarey), Anne's worldly maidservant, seduces Henrik and tries to teach Anne a few tricks; Carl-Magnus's wife, Countess Charlotte (Carrie Gray), commiserates with Anne about Fredrik's and her own husband's infidelity. There is love, love lost and love-making, jealousies and regrets, which all come to a head during a weekend at the Armfeldts' estate, hosted by Desiree's mother.
There is a clever Greek chorus (Meaghan Guterman, Brett Hanisko, Jessica Maxwell, Joshua Parman and Gwen Ter Haar), whose members appear periodically to comment on the scenes in songs such as the sarcastic "The Glamorous Life," which describes the life of a stage star ("Run for the carriage, wolf down a sandwich, which town is this one?").
There were so many outstanding performances it's hard to know where to start.
Bagley's Desiree hits all the right emotions as her character navigates middle age as a mother, daughter and lover in the context of her fading stardom. In the show's most well-known tune, "Send in the Clowns," Bagley pours out emotion — clipping some words, stretching others effectively to render a most moving piece accompanied beautifully by the orchestra.
Nolan's Fredrik handles a mountain of song and dialogue with great aplomb. His "You Must Meet My Wife" sung with Bagley is a charming, funny bit.
Madame Armfeldt is a pivotal role and Bryant carries it wonderfully — her theatrical voice and gestures suits her the old woman perfectly as she reflects on her past in "Liaisons." Her hardened character is a nice contrast to the young, innocent Fredrika, Desiree's daughter, whom she cares for.
Niepodziani is most expressive and coquettish as the childlike Anne, while Gray just seems so comfortable with her character, timing her Charlotte's clever comebacks and glances to great effect.
Allen follows up a fabulous turn as Javert in WCT's "Les Miserables" and does equally well with another puffed up character, Count Carl-Magnus.
A pleasant surprise was Clarey as Petra, who attacks the tune "The Miller's Son" with gusto as she mulls her marriage options, intoning some of the show's trickiest lyrics such as "from the pinch and the punch, to the paunch and the pouch."
The play had good pacing, especially with the "servants" — looking like they stepped out of Downton Abbey — quietly and efficiently moving set pieces like couches, tables and chairs.
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As a member of the stage crew, David kept everything running smoothly and was willing to help wherever he was needed. He stepped up to help with props when the Properties Master was sick, took on a quick change, and even took a line in the show after he showed up to an extra rehearsal. David had great enthusiasm and an excellent work ethic; he made a huge difference in the success of A Little Night Music.