COURTESY OF MANOA VALLEY THEATRE
Laurence Paxton and Stefanie Smart star in "A Little Night Music."
Paxton and Smart team up again in funny if uneven romantic romp
Directors sometimes deserve criticism for casting the same group of friends and relatives in show after show, but Laurence Paxton and Stefanie Smart seem so natural together that director John Rampage earns a "bravo" for reuniting them as the romantic leads of "A Little Night Music." From their first big scene to the heart-warming finale, Paxton and Smart are a winning team once again.
"A Little Night Music"
Where: Manoa Valley Theatre
When: Continues at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sundays through March 12.
Cost: Tickets are $30.
Call: 988-6131 or visit www.manoavalleytheatre.com.
He is Fredrik Egerman, a widowed Swedish attorney recently wed for the second time, who has spent 11 months patiently waiting for his teenage bride to overcome her fear of sex. Smart is Desiree Armfeldt, a predatory actress who collects men, then discards them. The two had a passionate affair many years before, but Fredrik is certain that his heart now belongs to his young bride. But a trip to the theater, and another night of celibacy, leads to an impetuous visit to her boudoir.
Desiree's lover of the moment is a pea-brained Swedish nobleman, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, but after a few moments with Fredrik, she decides the time has come to dump Carl-Magnus and win Fredrik back permanently. Cynicism, broad comedy and drawing-room farce dominate much of the action in playwright Hugh Wheeler's story, but Paxton and Smart go deeper than that in playing out the experiences of ex-lovers tentatively reconnecting.
Paxton brings humanity as well as humor to Fredrik. Particularly good are the scenes in which he reflects on the delicacy of his virgin bride ("Now") or looks back on what might have been ("It Would Have Been Wonderful").
Smart brings a similar introspection to "The Glamorous Life." She also succeeds in gradually winning our sympathy, even though Desiree's plans involve stealing another woman's husband. "Send in the Clowns" is the one song most people remember from the Stephen Sondheim score, and Smart makes it the emotional climax of Act 2.
The Manoa Valley Theatre production has five excellent supporting actors.
Douglas S. Scheer is perfectly cast in the great comic role of Count Malcolm. Here's a guy who schedules his assignations with his wife and his mistress with military efficiency, and who views women in general as little more than conveniences, yet is consumed with jealousy at the thought of Desiree cheating on him! Scheer shares Paxton's knack for musical comedy and adds to the role by managing to look physically bigger than Paxton -- and more robustly masculine in his uniform -- when the two confront each other in Desiree's boudoir.
Zenia Zambrano Moura (Charlotte Malcolm) drips venom as the conniving wife who plans to rekindle Count Malcolm's interest by seducing Fredrik. "Every Day a Little Death," Moura's big number in Act 1, is a chilling story of marriage at its worst, and an excellent demonstration of what she can do with the right material. Moura also contributes some of the brightest comic moments in the three-way cat fight in Act 2.
Brent Yoshikami (Henrik Egerman) displays subtle comic timing as Fredrik's son, a repressed soul whose preparations for the ministry are complicated by lust for his young stepmother. Katie Beth Hicks likewise gives a well-balanced performance as Anne Egerman, the young wife; she makes Anne's regression into immaturity believable as the various conspiracies play out.
Betty Burdick (Madame Armfeldt) dispenses cynical irony and the wisdom of age in equal measure with her delightfully acidic portrayal of Desiree's wealthy mother. Ahnya Chang (Petra) celebrates youthful promiscuity in vibrant style with "The Miller's Son," and Katherine Clifton (Fredrika Armfeldt) does so well with the small role of Desiree's daughter that one wishes there were more to it.
The problems lie elsewhere. The MVT chorus, used to introduce scenes, is weaker than the quintet assembled for Diamond Head Theatre's production in 1992 -- it actually sounded as though someone was singing flat on opening night. The story also gets off to a slow start and concludes with an abruptness that suggests Wheeler either ran out of ideas or was in a hurry to move on to another project.