U-M Presents a Swirling, Perfect Staging of Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music"


Cole Newburg as Fredrik Egerman and Audrey Graves as Anne Egerman in the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance's production of "A Little Night Music." Theatre "A Little Night Music" at

Cole Newburg as Fredrik Egerman and Audrey Graves as Anne Egerman in the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance's production of A Little Night Music. Photo taken from University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance's Facebook page.

It always amazes me. 

Every year, the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance is a magnet for the best, most talented musical theater stars on the horizon. 

This weekend, all that training and dedication pays off in a swirling, funny, poignant, and smoothly executed production of A Little Night Music, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler. Here, a large cast can show their innate talent and what they’ve learned on their way to future stardom at the Power Center for the Performing Arts.

Director Telly Leung, music director and conductor Catherine A. Walker, and choreographer and student Davey Burton Midkiff bring it all together. 

A Little Night Music is, as a note says, “suggested by a film by Ingmar Bergman.” In U-M’s production, Wheeler keeps the main characters and the late 1800s Swedish setting. It’s mid-summer when the days run long, and a yearning for love is in the air. Wheeler makes room for Sondheim’s excellent music and razor-sharp lyrics, but also makes subtle changes that bend Bergman’s film in complex ways.

Love is complicated. Fredrik Egerman, a successful lawyer, has married a much younger woman, still in her teens, who after months of being married, has not surrendered her virginity. Meanwhile, Fredrik’s son is attracted to his stepmother. Fredrik lives on the memory of a brief love affair with Desiree Armfeldt, a celebrated actress. Meanwhile, Desiree is having a tryst with a swaggering count and soldier. His wife wants to bring him down. That’s only part of the story.

Sondheim’s music and lyrics are intimate reflections on love’s triumphs and disappointments. The music, often a waltz, brings the swirling, effortless reverie to full life. It is comedy and melancholy all at once. The young performers gracefully take on the ages of the characters they play.

Cole Newburg is the serious, accomplished lawyer in a frustrating marriage. Newburg has a strong singing voice with clear phrasing and presents a quietly dashing figure. As the play goes on, he moves from farcical to emotional effortlessly.

The emotions settle on two women, his reluctant wife, and the actress who is back in town. Audrey Graves is the frantic, shrill, but very attractive young wife. Graves has just the right touch of Judy Holliday in her performance. Michael Fabisch plays young Henrik, balancing timidity with a young man’s rage.

At the center, as stars should be, is Desiree Armfeldt, a woman yearning to settle down and renew her relationship with her 15-year-old daughter. Carly Meyer brings that growing maturity and graceful, bigger-than-life star appeal to her wise portrayal of Desiree. Of course, she has the most famous song in the show, “Send in the Clowns.” Her performance of the famous song is sad, winsome, complicated, and fully acted as well as sung. She seems to go through a flood of emotions as she sings. Heartbreaking …

Desiree has a daughter and a mother, who has done most of the child-raising while Desiree is on the road. As Desiree’s mother, Kate Laila Louissaint is a young woman who does a very credible performance playing a much older woman with a wickedly tart remark for every occasion. Louissaint has her musical moment, a wistful, funny “Liaisons,” recalling her many lovers. Dancers play out these love memories as she sings.

Desiree wants to renew her relationship with Fredrik because of her daughter Fredrika, played by Mariangeli Collado. But she is courted by the swaggering, married count. Owen Scales has fun playing the self-involved, clumsy military man. His wife Charlotte and virginal Anne join forces against Desiree, but Charlotte’s real target is her boorish husband. Gabriella Palminteri plays Charlotte as a rapid-fire with a twinkle in her eye when she’s plotting. Palminteri is another fine singer, as she shows in her soft, sad performance of “Every Day a Little Death.”

Freidrik’s maid embraces love in its many forms. She teases Fredrik’s son and is eager to go on a trip to the country to romance a young servant. Angeleia Ordoñez is hilarious and boisterous and an excellent singer. She gets the last word on love with the slightly bawdy “The Miller’s Son” performed with gusto.

Instead of full sets, the director and set designer Jungah Han have opted for a more fluid open stage in which furniture and props are moved smoothly in and out. The large empty stage is perfect for staging dance interludes that are based on the waltz and also miming. The supporting cast provides added voices as well as smartly choreographed moves.

This is a perfect showcase, and a great opportunity for the performers, the orchestra, and the crew. This is a good example to the audience of why so many graduates of the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance find their way to Broadway and Hollywood.

Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently the managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.

A Little Night Music will be continued at the Power Center for the Performing Arts at 8 pm Friday-Saturday, April 19-20, and 2 pm Sunday, April 21. For ticket information, call (734) 764-2538 or email smtdtickets@umich.edu.