I find myself lately wandering more and more out to Brooklyn, which to this Native New Yorker, a Manhattan-dweller, is equivalent these days of traveling to a foreign country. And I always get lost. The weather was with me, but the subways weren’t.
This time the trains weren’t helping. The “F” subway line was on a weekend schedule where it skipped the stops that I had to take to see the Gallery Players production of “A Little Night Music.” So I ended up getting out at an earlier stop (before the skips started) and ended wandering around a deserted, desolate, rather intimidating moon-scape of storehouses and warehouses, all shuttered for the weekend. It went on and on. For blocks upon blocks. Pot holes everywhere. Thank goodness the sun was up!
New York has been suffering through one of the worst winters on record but this day, a Sunday, was unseasonably warm and bright, so I took the chance for going alllll the way out to Brooklyn to see the Gallery Players for the first time. It was a Matinee Day and the sun was up or I would’ve been REALLY daunted.
Now the Gallery Players’ mandate is to serve its’ community in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn. “Broadway in Brooklyn” its’ ads proudly proclaim, and I’m sure the residents nearby its’ location delight in the idea of attending an enterprising theatrical mainstay that is in walking distance.
The Gallery Players are a sort of semi-professional group. An Actor’s Equity Showcase, it boasted an afternoon of excellent singing actors, some giving stand-out, blazing Broadway-style turns, like Judith Roberts as Madame Armfeldt, whom I’ll get to in a minute, and then others who were embarrassingly amateurish. They could sing, but they couldn’t act. But it was lovely hearing that great score once again. It always enchants.
Nevertheless “Little Night Music” was a wildly uneven, seemingly under-rehearsed production. And any production of one of Stephen Sondheim’s best-ever musicals has to compete in my mind with memories of the blazing Broadway original, directed by Harold Prince. Both he and Sondheim were at the heights of the respective careers when “A Little Night Music” exploded on to Broadway in the 1970s.
I remember Glynis Johns, who could barely sing a note, being just wonderful as Desiree Armfeldt. She was so vivid, so sensual, so charismatic as the Swedish actress, all these men keep chasing after madly in Stockholm at the turn of the last century. Based on an Ingmar Bergman movie “Smiles of a Summer Night,” to which it is, in my mind, far, far superior, Sondheim wrote “A Little Night Music” completely in waltz time. It’s one of his best scores, if not THEE best.
I remember so well the shock of the five-person quintet of aristocrats bursting into the semi-operatic “Remember? Remember?” at the beginning of the show.
Then having it settle down to this opulent, melodic score that just soared, although the two central female characters played by Glynis Johns, and, as her mother, Hermione Gingold, couldn’t sing a note.
Rita Rehn, as the vixen/actress Desiree Armfeldt, here was bouncy and charming and really wow-ed me with her unexpectedly poignant rendition of “Send in the Clowns”, the song that some consider Sondheim’s best. And certainly the most popular.
As I heard it for the first time on Broadway, I knew it was an instant classic, but it was ironically(or perhaps cynically) being croaked by an actress Glynis Johns who could barely hit the one of two notes required for it. But here in Park Slope, Rita Rehn moved me quite unexpectedly by her “Send in the Clowns.”
And it couldn’t have come soon enough. The pace of this production was REALLY slow.
But the other saving grace of “A Little Night Music” was Judith Roberts towering turn as Desiree’s sensible courtesan mother, the wheel-chair bound Madame Armfeldt, who bemoans the present state of amour in “Liasons”. Ms. Roberts is giving what can only be described as a legendary interpretation of this terrific role and ranks right up there with Gingold and Elaine Stritch and all the other great ladies who have played this iconic role.”Fire opal pedants!” being one of my all-time favorite lyrics. M. Armfeldt exclaims this mid-song describing one of the great gifts, a long-ago lover bestoyed upon her.
She, unlike the others I’ve seen. chose to sing “Liasons” standing up, and not in a wheel chair, which added to her and its’ power as a show-stopper immeasurably. She brought down the house. And I would venture to say that her performance alone is worth the trip out to Brooklyn to see the Gallery Players before the run of this production ends on Feb. 16. Her Madame is right up there with Gingold and Stritch, who played the part previously.
I would be remiss if I didn’t cite others in this large cast who are also doing yeoman jobs that are worth seeing. Main among them, Ron Langeder, as Count Karl Magnuss, the bristling, jealous dragoon lover of Desiree,Emily Stokes, as Anne, the inguenue, who here is a quite montrous still-a-virgin very young wife of the lawyer Egerman and
Scott Vicari, showing in the small role of Frid, a servant, Stanislavski’s great maxim, there is no such thing as a small part, only small actors. And Vicari shows that he is not a small actor by any means. He glows like a jewel in the background with focused intelligence and the presence of a star, whether he is pushing Madame Armfeldt’s wheel-chair, or seducing the servant girl in “I Will Marry the Miller’s Son.”
So in conclusion “A Little Night Music” by the Gallery Players is a mixed-bag of baubles indeed, but one you should definitely look in to. You might find a diamond, like Judith Roberts.
The Gallery Players are located at ~
199 14th St, #2, Brooklyn, NY 11215
Cross Streets: Between 5th Ave and 4th Ave
Neighborhoods: South Slope, Brooklyn