O'Malley adds magic glow to Civic's 'Night Music'
_By CHRISTOPHER POTTER
- NEWS ARTS WRITER_______
Dear Mr. & Mrs. O’Malley:
You have a lovely, talented daughter in Saline High School junior Brynn O’Malley, who made her Ann Arbor Civic Theatre debut Thursday evening in “A Little Night Music.”
Your apple-cheeked 16-year-old already is a stage-show veteran. She plays pop guitar and classical viola, and was a solo vocalist for University of Michigan Musical Theatre director Brent Wagner last summer at Interlochen.
So I’m beseech you: Don’t let Brynn fly away to some remote region of the country two years hence, like say, the Yale School of Drama. Ann Arbor needs this amazing teen, who lights up a stage like an angel in worldly garb. Without her, director Glenn Bugala’s AACT staging of “A Little Night Music” would be an excellent production. With her, the show feels magical.
Of course there’s always been something special about Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s 1973 musical, inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s comedy-romance “Smiles of a Summer Night” and whose music is penned entirely in waltz time.
“A Little Night Music” has Sondheim’s most conventional plot, yet it takes gossamer wing on a night when the sun never sets and its mismatched couples re-sort themselves into lusty harmony.
Certainly someone needs to clean up these characters’ anti-romantic mess. Fredrik Egerman (Charles Sutherland) is a 50-ish lawyer whose ungainly quest for his lost youth has led him to many 21-year-old Anne (O’Malley), a child-woman who pampers and coos over her husband - yet shyly maintains her virginity, even after 11 months of wedlock.
Famed actress Desiree Armfeldt (Wendy Bloom) once had a blissful romance with Fredrik that should have lasted but didn't. Now she pursues a purely sexual affair with macho Count Carl-Magnus (Tom Cooch). A strutting boor, Carl-Magnus doesn’t even try to conceal the liaison from his long-suffering wife Charlotte (Kathy Marrero).
Charlotte however has a plan, as she openly informs Anne: She intends to seduce Fredrik as a means of luring hypocritical Carl-Mangnus back to her.
Anne is by no means taken aback. She has been growing fonder of Fredrik’s teenage son Henrik (Jim Walke), whose religious beliefs clash with his hormones. So painful is Henrik's dilemma that it drives him to wish “I had never been one of the spermatazoa that reached the womb!”
Clearly these sufferers at love need a helping hand. They get two: A letting-go wilderness rapture liberates Act II from the urban constrictions of Act I. And Sondheim’s waltzes shower all in a divine bliss.
Bugala milks the powers of nature primeval, which seems even to have affected the show’s set - from ugly and clumsy in Act I into perfect two-story-mansion harmony in the subsequent country setting.
Sutherland and Bloom are just a shade stiff as Henrik and Desiree, but the rest of the cast excels. A huffy Cooch and catty Marrero hilariously game-play their way through a bizarre marriage. Laurie Atwood is tougher than nails (and much tougher than original star Hermione Gingold) as Desiree’s rich and aged mother, while young Elizabeth Filos is almost frighteningly empathic as Desiree’s ethereal, all-seeing daughter Fredrika.
Bugala offers a world of parasols and croquet wickets, plus some wicked surprises. A brief blackout finds one pair of prone-supine lovers replaced by another pair, while Courtney Balan belts sauciness and soul into the “The Miller’s Son,” usually the show’s odd-song-out.
Walke satirizes his own macho good looks as neurotic Henrik, while an oh-so-gentle Nordic-chorus quintet - especially golden-voiced Sue Booth - lends lovely harmonic balance (despite one dissonant gaffe last night).
Yet whenever O’Malley is on stage she instantly dominates all the rest. She can peer into a mirror with dismay (“Could that be a pimple coming?”) or search for Henrik in the wilderness (“Isn’t this exciting after that stodgy old dinner!”), and all one sees is her. It’s called old-fashioned charisma, and though it’s never been adequately defined, O’Malley has it in spades. So, Mom and Dad, give her a little time here before Hollywood sweeps her away forever.
"A Little Night Music" will continue through Nov. 23 at Ann Arbor Civic's Playhouse, 2275 Platt Road. Curtain is 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $18 general, $14 students and seniors. For details call 971-0605.