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Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music Shines at the Houston Grand Opera

HGO waltzes through Sondheim's beloved musical.

The show's chorus, the Quintet, serve as commentators throughout. They begin the musical with a lovely surprise, a vocal overture. Although attired in Edwardian undress — garters, baggy drawers, slips and peignoirs — they also wear fey little fairy wings, as if they've tumbled out of an adult-size Midsummer Night's Dream. This is designer Mizrahi run amok, too precious by half, as are the bewinged forest denizens who clutter up the space and move the many set pieces on and off stage. This is the problem with this unit set; no matter how delicious-looking a forest it is, once Mizrahi decides to use realistic doorways, an iron bed, a settee, a dining room table big enough for eight, and a piano, he's got to get them off stage, too. The constant shuffling wastes time, even when underscored with Sondheim's sublime melodies. This rearranging in the woods impedes the musical's flow just when it should dance. Under maestro Eric Melear, this classic show, though, sings to perfection.

Opening night, the lighting had a mind of its own. The background scrim shorted out, flashing wayward blues and reds across the back panel like so much summer lightning. Although it must have caused paroxysms for the stage crew, the effect was most becoming. Everything was tamed by Act II, when Brian Nason's Pre-Raphaelite colors washed the stage again.

These misguided couples need all the help they can get.
Lynn Lane
These misguided couples need all the help they can get.

As evidence of Sondheim's wide range, his two most successful musicals are A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd. They're completely different in manner and effect, yet both sound just like Sondheim. Nobody else could have written them. Todd is blood and guts and Theater of Cruelty. Night Music is ball gowns, trysts and fin de siècle, a world soon to explode. Both explore and explain love and sex. Each different, but the same. I'm going with A Little Night Music. At least when the world ends, you go out with a waltz.

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