Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the North
Phil Hopkins
Arts & Travel Editor
7:00 AM 2nd July 2021

Sondheim’s Glamorous Triumph Returns

If Americans have been accused of failing to understand the concept of sarcasm, then they should look to their deliciously witty son, Stephen Sondheim and his tour de force, A Little Night Music, which opened at Leeds Playhouse with all the drama, pathos and emotional intrigue that only Broadway’s musical master could deliver.

Bathed in irony, honesty, love, lies and intrigue, this beautifully crafted study of the human condition – Sondheim was responsible for the music and lyrics and Hugh Wheeler the book - feels as eternal as the themes it examines.

Director James Brining was given a classic masterpiece to work with but, nevertheless, has pulled off a beauty in this joint production with Opera North and its magnificent 25-piece orchestra.

First premiered nearly half a century ago when Sondheim was still in his early 40’s – he’s now a grand old man of 91 – the musical must have appeared overly precocious for one still so relatively young.

Inspired by the 1955 Ingmar Bergman film Smiles of a Summer Night, it looks at the glamorous lives of various mismatched lovers and their romantic trysts over a weekend in the country.

Dame Josephine Barstow, as the Grand Madame of the piece, Madame Armfeldt...
...narrating the innocence and foolishness unfolding all around her - was an absolute joy and Stephanie Corley as her actress daughter, Desiree, was coquettish to a fault, even if her lover, Fredrik Egerman (Quirijn de Lang) was, for me, less convincing and a little insipid.
This is a musical that requires the ‘full treatment’ because it is so demanding as a ‘piece’. The players need to be able to sing and act to a fault and the musicians have to be nothing less than first class.

Indeed, the director too must be at his best for this complex show: Sondheim has, occasionally, been accused of being too clever for his own good!

However, I was delighted to witness a beautiful production that was almost faultless and that worked, with an excellent Chris Davey lighting plot that brought the show to a classy, masterful end.

There were some wonderful performances and it would be imprudent, and impossible, to mention them all, however, in these Covid times, it is safe to say that Leeds Playhouse’s production of A Little Night Music is a wonderful and welcome interlude from lockdown.

But, make sure you have had an afternoon snooze before you go because, apart from lasting three hours, you will need to be on your mettle throughout if you are to avoid missing the witty gems that fire from the stage faster than a gatling gun!

A Little Night Music
Leeds Playhouse
Until July 17th