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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

You must meet Writers' Theatre's sublime A Little Night Music



It's been awhile since I last saw two of Chicago's finest actresses - the lovely Shannon Cochran and the Tony Award-winning Deanna Dunagan - in a show together. The first time was in a 1988 Steppenwolf production of the play, Stepping Out, which later became a film starring Liza Minnelli. And then in 1992 they both appeared in Steppenwolf's Inspecting Carol, a comedy that also featured a young actress by the name of Jane Lynch. Yes, I confess that I'm one of those people who save almost all their Playbills/Stagebills - which often do come in handy many years later while writing a review.

So it's been 20 years since my last evening in the theatre with both Ms. Dunagan and Ms. Cochran, who are now appearing as mother and daughter in Writers' Theatre's sublime production of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music. Dunagan is a delight as the wise Madame Armfeldt, whose country estate is the setting for a weekend of various romantic entanglements, and Cochran is simply amazing as her daughter, Desiree, an aging actress with a sharp wit who is becoming a bit tired of the glamorous life. I cannot say enough good things about these two brilliant actresses, so I will just highly recommend that anyone who loves musical theatre should run to see their marvelous performances currently gracing the stage.


In addition to Cochran and Dunagan, the rest of the outstanding cast couldn't be better, including Jonathan Weir as Desiree's former lover Fredrik, Kristen French as his much younger wife Anne, Royen Kent as Fredrik's son Henrik, Brianna Borger as Anne's maid Petra, Shannon Corey as Desiree's daughter Fredrika, Brandon Dahlquist as Desiree's latest lover Carl-Magnus, and Tiffany Scott, who provides many scene-stealing laughs as Carl-Magnus' bitter wife Charlotte.

And speaking of laughs, I never realized before that A Little Night Music was a musical comedy. Having only seen one previous production and listened to the original Broadway cast recording, I didn't find the show to be that funny - until now. Under the exquisite direction of William Brown, this Night Music is not only beautiful to look at - with a simple but elegant scenic design by Kevin Depinet, effective lighting by Jesse Klug and gorgeous costumes by Rachel Anne Healy - but it is also hilarious. Brown and his cast have discovered every delicious morsel of humor in Hugh Wheeler's book and Sondheim's lyrics, making this production briskly move along with endless laughter. There are still some emotionally dramatic moments - especially in Act 2 when Ms. Cochran sings the show's most famous song, "Send in the Clowns" - but most of the time I had a blissful smile on my face as I watched what will most certainly be one of my favorite stage productions of 2012.

A Little Night Music runs through July 8 at Writers' Theatre (325 Tudor Court) in Glencoe, Illinois. Tickets can be purchased in person at the box office (376 Park Avenue in Glencoe), by phone at (847) 242-6000 or online at www.writerstheatre.org.

The above photos are by Michael Brosilow, and below you can watch a trailer for the production.

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