Filichia Features: The Little Things in A Little Night Music

Filichia Features: The Little Things in A Little Night Music

Stratford Festival’s production of A Little Night Music -- Stephen Sondheim’s eighth musical -- brings to mind a song from his sixth musical.

“It’s the little things … the little things … ”

So sang Joanne in Company. Gary Griffin’s excellent production of A Little Night Music sported many “little things” that made a big difference.

Apparently Griffin and his performers did what everyone should do when tackling a musical: really, truly and exhaustively go over each and every word, be it spoken or sung, to find the ones where texture can be added. Together Griffin and Company indeed came up with the “little things” that have wound up meaning a lot.

Yanna McIntosh and Ben Carlson in Stratford Festival's production of A Little Night Music (Photo by David Hou).

Griffin solved a potential problem in the opening moments. Considering that Sondheim and director Harold Prince started the show with five singers warbling what is officially the show’s “Overture,” theatergoers might well have mistaken chorus members for characters. But the way that Griffin positioned one man at the piano and had the other four loll around it suggested they were immersed in a nostalgic sing-a-long of once-favorite songs.

(Interesting, isn’t it, that this Overture of three songs does not include “Send in the Clowns”? When the Overture was constructed, no one – including Sondheim – anticipated that this would be the musical’s smash-hit, breakout signature song).

Onto the story: Fredrik Egerman, a middle-aged man, has made the mistake of marrying teenager Anne. She says she felt sorry for him and thus wed him -- but won’t bed him. And this drought has been going on for 11 months!

While Anne has traditionally shrugged off the lyric “What’s one small shortcoming?” Griffin or Alexis Gordon opted for a defiant attitude. This Anne believes her husband is making a big deal over nothing.

Young Anne is old enough to be a shameless flirt with Henrik, Frederick’s teenage son who’s studying for the priesthood. While she knits, she purposely drops a ball of yarn onto the floor just to see Henrik’s reaction when he replaces it on her lap.

Usually, Henrik quickly does just that; here either Griffin or Gabriel Antonacci has the lad give a quick heaven-ward look before taking action. Will God approve of his replacing the yarn? Has he His permission? Will he be sinning if he does it?

It’s a nice touch.

Alexis Gordon​ Stratford Festival's production of A Little Night Music (Photo by David Hou).

A wife such as Anne drives Fredrik into the arms of his former lover Desiree Armfeldt. Trouble is, after they’ve trysted, Desiree’s current lover Carl-Magnus unexpectedly arrives. He’ll be none too pleased to see another man on the scene.

Although Fredrik staunchly tells Desiree “I am not a lawyer – nor you an actress – for nothing,” most productions have him quite worried about how he’ll handle the situation. Griffin or Ben Carlson instead has Fredrik welcome the challenge, making him more worthy of our admiration and attention. How we enjoy seeing him improv (and find that he’s better at it than seasoned actress Desiree).

Not that Carl-Magnus is the least ready to believe the story of how Fredrik landed in Desiree’s boudoir. He not-so-matter-of-factly mentions that he’s proficient with a knife, and to prove it, he’ll throw it at a portrait of a lady and get her in the eye. He does just that, but here Griffin or Juan Chioran has him first point the weapon at Fredrik’s genitals. Yes, he’d just as soon use that as a target to prove how adept he is at knife-wielding.

Madame Armfeldt has always started Scene Seven with the line “Child, I am about to give you your advice for the day” followed by Fredrika’s asking “Yes, Grandmother?” Griffin or Rosemary Dunsmore gets more out of the moment by having Madame Armfeldt pause. Yes, she’s actually forgotten the sage counsel she was about to impart. (Many in the audience must smile in recognition.)

This happens during her game of solitaire. When Desiree unexpectedly arrives, she soon plays a card that her mother has missed. It’s not in the script. Now -- how will Madame Armfeldt react? To our surprise, the cranky woman accepts the move, knowing that her daughter’s move was right.

After Desiree asks her mother to allow the Egermans to weekend in the country, the grand dame usually displays non-stop reluctance. Here Dunsmore ceases to be unwilling before her exit line, which she says with affection. After all, Desiree is her daughter, and the bottom line is that she does love her.

However – and it’s a big “However” – after Fredrik introduces Anne to Desiree with “This is my wife,” Griffin and Yanna McIntosh miss the important italicization that Hugh Wheeler put in the script. Desiree introduces Fredrika to both with “And this is MY daughter.” It’s a clever way of having Desiree say “That girl is young enough to be your kid.”

Ah, well. As I Do! I Do! has Michael and Agnes maintain, “Nobody’s perfect.”

Read more Filichia Features. 

You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Monday at and Tuesday at His book, The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at