If there are decent sets and costumes for A Little Night Music, these and the pop pleasure of Stephen Sondheim‘s songs make this 1970s musical comedy recommendable. The book by Hugh Wheeler is worthless. Granted, few books for musicals are what they ought to be, but do they have to be this bad? Wheeler’s work is “suggested” by the Ingmar Bergman film, Smiles of a Summer Night, which, the last time I saw it, disappointed me. The whole second act of the libretto is muddled and dopey; I couldn’t abide Henrik’s and Anne’s frequent running around or the Russian roulette business. In both acts of the libretto, Madame Armfeldt is as loathsome as she is in Bergman’s movie—more so, in fact.
The music, however, makes the difference. “Now,” “Every Day a Little Death” and “Send in the Clowns” are all minor gems. Not so the cheap “Remember?” but the lyrical vulgarity in the snappy “The Miller’s Son,” coming as it does from Petra the maid, is appropriate. I don’t know how long it’s been since A Little Night Music was revived on Broadway, but I give one cheer over its being revived (some years ago) in Tulsa. With limited appeal, it is a theatrical event.
(To the right, the poster for the film, not the stage show)