Book by Hugh Wheeler, based on Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The original Broadway production opened on 25 February 1973 and was directed by Harold Prince with choreography by Patricia Birch, running for 601 performances.
Synopsis and Musical Numbers
A quintet of Lieder Singers sings about something that has happened before and which will, during the course of the evening, all happen again (OVERTURE / NIGHT WALTZ), this time to the following group of people: Desiree Armfeldt, a popular actress; Count Carl Magnus, Desiree’s lover and his wife, Charlotte; Fredrik Egerman, a lawyer in his forties; Anne, his pretty eighteen-year old virgin bride of eleven months; and Henrik, his nineteen year old son. Partnerships and love affairs will be broken and resumed, and the eldrely Madame Armfeldt, who knows about these things, explains to her granddaughter Fredrika the three smiles of a summer night: the first smile is for the young, like Fredrika, who know nothing; the second for fools, like Fredrika’s mother, who know too little; the third for the old – Madame Armfeldt herself – who know too much….
We are in Sweden at the turn of the century and at the house of Fredrik Egerman, a permanent Nordic frost of sexual frustration seems to have settled. Fredrik arrives home with tickets to the theatre as Anne excitedly rattles on about the day’s events. He wonders if he should nap or attempt to consummate their marriage NOW. He decides to nap. Henrik is in the parlor below, reading, when Petra, Anne’s easy-going young maid, sexually teases him. Henrik attempts to kiss her and she breaks away, promising later. Henrik angrily wonders when LATER is. Meanwhile in the bedroom, Anne looks at the sleeping Fredrik and promises that SOON she will be his. Elsewhere, in a swirl of activity, Desiree Armfeldt is leading THE GLAMEROUS LIFE – dashing off a note to her daughter and mother before being whisked from one grim lodging to another draughty dressing-room to a meeting of the Halsingborg Arts Council Amateur Theatre Group. In that evening’s entertainment, Desiree plays a woman who can and does have any man she wants. In the Egerman party at the theatre, Anne swears that Desiree is directing her performance at Fredrik alone. Back home, she still cannot love him yet is riven by jealousy at the thought that he might hanker after Desiree. Their affair ended years ago, but the memories still taunt him (REMEMBER?).
Meanwhile, in the Egerman parlor, Henrik quickly putting on his trousers, laments his failure to seduce Petra. She is busy comforting him, when Anne and Fredrik arrive. While Anne sleeps, Fredrik seeks out Desiree in her apartment and uncomfortably tries to explain his reason for coming to see her (YOU MUST MEET MY WIFE). Desiree is shocked that Anne hasn’t allowed her husband to make love to her and realizing his needs ushers him into the bedroom. Mme. Armfeldt wonders what the world is coming to (LIAISONS). Meanwhile, even as they complete their coupling, Fredrik and Desiree are surprised by Carl-Magnus. Fredrik is more dishevelled than a quiet drink with an old friend would seem to require but Carl-Magnus, speaking IN PRAISE OF WOMEN, is unperturbed; women practise fidelity, he practises fidelity too – to Desiree… and his wife Charlotte. Therefore, as everyone is so faithful, nothing can have happened. The following day, though, Carl Magnus forces his wife, Charlotte, to visit Anne and tell her about seeing Frederik in Desiree’s apartment. The two lament the problems of love (MY HUSBDAND THE PIG/EVERY DAY A LITTLE DEATH). Desiree, anxious to be with Fredrik, convinces her mother to send a weekend invitation to Fredrik and his family. When Petra excitedly delivers the invitation to Anne, who is appalled, Charlotte convinces her to go and tells Carl about the invitation. He informs her that they will also visit Desiree and the everyone sets off for A WEEKEND IN THE COUNTRY.
With the country weekend about to begin, the Lieder Singers set the mood for the events in store: THE SUN WON’T SET and no-one seems inclined to a quiet night’s sleep. Charlotte tells Anne that she will make love to Fredrik and thereby tempt Carl-Magnus back. Henrik confides to Fredrika that he is in love with Anne, his stepmother. On the terrace, Carl-Magnus and Fredrik wait for Desiree in gloomy introspection (IT WOULD HAVE BEEN WONDERFUL). Only Petra is fully enjoying her weekend away, with a straightforward bout of al fresco passion with Madame Armfeldt’s butler Frid. The Norse twilight tingles as the Lieder Quintet comments on the situation (PERPERTUAL ANTICIPATION). As the night advances, a grim weariness descends: the dinner is a shambles with the Countess trying to infuriate Carl Magnus by flirting with Fredrik, Henrik rushing off because of the phoniness of the people present, and Anne hastening to find him. In Desiree’s bedroom, Fredrik wonders why he’s wasting his time trying to recapture his lost youth with a teenage bride and Desiree wonders why she’s sleeping with a dunderhead dragoon to relieve the monotony of third-rate tours. Fredrik and Desiree both admit they wanted to recapture time and Desiree yearns for the time they have lost (SEND IN THE CLOWNS).
Outside, under the Northern stars, Anne finally discovers Henrik attempting suicide in the garden. They kiss and, on the shores of the lake, both discover love. Nearby, Anne’s maid, Petra, has finished a night of lovemaking with Fred, a servant. As Fred sleeps, Petra dreams of her future (THE MILLER’S SON). Henrik and Anne leave together as Charlotte tells Fredrik she really loves her husband. Carl Magnus jealously accuses her of infidelity and challenges Fredrik to Russian Roulette. A shot is heard and Fredrik is carried on with a grazed ear. Carl Magnus and Charlotte depart – she has achieved her aim. Desiree and Fredrik are left to each other. The summer night has smiled on the young, the fools and, finally, the old: Madame Armfeldt dies, and the night waltz plays once more (FINALE).
Purchases from Amazon.com
From left to right above: 1. A Little Night Music Original Broadway Cast CD. 2. A Little Night Music 1975 London Cast Recording CD. 3. A Little Night Music 1989 Studio Cast Recording CD. 4. A Little Night Music 1989 Studio Cast Recording Highlights CD. 5. A Little Night Music Trotter Jazz Trio CD.
From left to right above:
From left to right above: 1. A Little Night Music Musical Film DVD. 2. A Little Night Music Complete Book and Lyrics. 3. Four By Sondheim, including complete book and lyrics of A Little Night Music. 4. A Little Night Music Vocal Score. 5. A Little Night Music Vocal Selections.
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