Promotional image for 42nd Street Moon's production of Sondheim's A Little Night Music

When Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music opened in the Shubert Theatre in 1973, it filled the Great Gap of Broadway. On one side of the chasm were (and perhaps still are) musicals of “June/moon/spoon” happy ending in the early days, dancing cats and roller-skating steam engines in the decade following LNM; on the other: Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Ibsen.

"A Little Night Music" recording cover
Recording (on vinyl) of the 1978 soundtrack of A Little Night Music

A Little Night Music was a startling hybrid: a charming musical with the depth and relevance rarely found in the genre before ... or since, except in other works by Sondheim. Audiences took time to warm up to his mix of memorable meaning and fun: Against the 600 performances of LNM’s first run, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s cash machines went 10,000 or more.

When LNM comes to the Gateway Theater, Nov. 4–21, to open 42nd Street Moon’s post-lockdown season, to be its first fully staged live production in 20 months, the director will be Brandon Jackson.

Originally from Chicago, but a Bay Area resident since his Stanford double major of drama and political science 15 years ago, the actor-director has a unique perspective A Little Night Music: “I have not seen a stage production, but of course read it and saw Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night [the 1955 Swedish film on which Sondheim’s LNM, with Hugh Wheeler’s book, is based].”

Martin Bell
Martin Bell is Fredrik Egerstrom, who sings about his nightshirt | Courtesty of 42nd Street Moon

Without impressions of other productions, Jackson is free to create his own, well supported by the experienced 42nd Street Moon team of Executive Artistic Director Daniel Thomas, Producing Artistic Director Daren A.C. Carollo, musical director Daniel Thomas, and choreographer Allison Paraiso. Jackson has already directed the company’s virtual production of The Scottsboro Boys, by John Kander and Fred Ebb.

Jackson feels the depth and complexity of Sondheim’s work in personal terms. “There is nothing on stage here that someone hasn’t lived,” he says, citing the perspectives and choices of the play’s characters.

LNM is about choices and decisions, the ambiguity of old feelings and the cost of realizing those feelings that persist. Jackson speaks warmly of Fredrik and Charlotte, two very different characters.

Fredrik Egerman, the sort-of-hero of the musical, is making big errors in his romantic life at the present, but pursues an old and missed relationship, no matter what ... even while confused by the logistics of a half-hearted (and unsuccessful) tryst:

I could put on my nightshirt or sit
Disarmingly, in the nude.
That might be effective;
My body’s all right —
But not in perspective
And not in the light.
I’m bound to be chilly
And feel a buffoon,
But nightshirts are silly
In mid-afternoon.

Katrina Lauren McGraw
Katrina Lauren McGraw is Charlotte in 42nd Street Moon's A Little Night Music | Courtesy of 42nd Street Moon'

Of Charlotte Malcolm, Jackson says, the character is typical of Sondheim’s complex presentation of psychological ambiguities. “She is a strong woman who knows exactly what’s going on, but remains loyal to her philandering husband,” according to Jackson.

Charlotte is the brilliant wife of a dumb dragoon (cavalry officer), who both cheats on her in the open and condemns others who don’t live up to his high moral standards. “She stays with him because she still loves him,” Jackson says, “showing Sondheim’s unstated, but clear view that love is not perfections, but a matter of choice. In the end, Charlotte ‘gets her man.’”

The process is not easy, as shown in Charlotte’s heart-rending lament, preceding her continued determination to “make the marriage work.”

Every day a little death
In the parlor, in the bed,
In the curtains, in the silver,
In the buttons, in the bread.
Every day a little sting
In the heart and in the head...

Men are stupid, men are vain,
Love’s disgusting, love’s insane,
A humiliating business.

Alison Ewing
Alison Ewing is Desirée, who asks to “Send in the Clowns” | Courtesy of  42nd Street Moon

There are few works around with so many musical numbers whose lyrics keep resonating decades after first hearing LNM, from “Now/Later/Soon” to “Remember?” from “Liaisons” to “A Weekend in the Country,” from “Perpetual Anticipation” to “The Miller’s Son,” and the best-known/least-understood (until seeing it in context) “Send in the Clowns.”

In the large cast of LNM at 42nd Street Moon, Fredrik is Martin Bell; Fredrik’s virginal wife, Anne, is Samantha Rose Cárdenas; the musical’s “Send in the Clowns” heroine, Desirée, is Alison Ewing; Fredrik’s son, Henrik, is Shai Wolf.

Anne’s maid, the thoroughly liberated Petra, is Trixie Aballa; the troublesome dragoon Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm is William Giammona; his long-suffering wife Charlotte is Katrina Lauren McGraw; Madame Armfeldt (who had spent “a somewhat infamous year at the villa of the Baron De Signac”) is Cindy Goldfield; and the wise-for-her-age teenager Fredrika is Chloe Fong.

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