Arts & Culture

A Little Night Music a big hit

By Lorraine Graves

Published 1:57 PDT, Sat October 14, 2017

Richmond’s Gateway Theatre started their 2017-18 season off with a gracious bang, in three quarter time. A Little Night Music, Stephen Sondheim’s hit musical, best known for the song, Send in the Clowns, showcases a cast, a writer, and stagecraft at its peak.

Opening nights often have things to be tweaked. With a packed house, the acoustics can be different. The orchestra was a little too loud to make out the words in the opening number. That was soon sorted out and the balance was spot on for the rest of the evening.

A Little Night Music takes a cynical look at fidelity but ends on a note of reality and commitment. With the waltz-time score, the audience embraces the romance of the play, lulled and alternately shocked by the earthy ideas that burble up through the lyrics, often obscure enough that very young ears wouldn’t understand the double entendres but clear enough to worldly-wise theatre goers.

A Little Night Musiclooks at love and commitment through the eyes of a child, her grandmother, an idealistic young man, an older widower and his far-too-young bride, and an older former love of the widower. Thrown into the mix is a pompous, sexist military officer, his wife, and his dismay that his mistress may be cheating on him.

Don’t worry, you don’t need a cheat sheet to keep track of everyone. It’s clear from the get-go that, while the characters may have challenges keeping their amorous commitments straight, the audience is in on the joke.

The absolute stand-out performance of the evening is Warren Kimmel as Fredrik, the older widower loving the vitality of his 18-year-old bride, when he ruefully reconnects with a past love, a woman his own age.

Last seen as a wounded and bitter Shylock seeking revenge on a bigoted society at Bard on the Beach only weeks ago, Kimmel’s Fredrik couldn’t be a more different character. Kimmel is equally convincing in this role and his singing voice rings rich and true.

That said, all the actors in this production from the youngest to the most mature are at the top of their games. Skilled acting, pitch-perfect music, and timing that’s spot on, flowed throughout the production.

The professional musicians deserve special mention. Responding to the phrasing and tone of the actors as they sing adds a dreamy depth that only a live orchestra can.

The creative team from Gateway and Patrick Street Productions deserve kudos for their work to design a dreamy and opulent environment with set changes that were subtle, seamless, and sometimes used as part of the story.

We had great seats but, judging by the blocking, all seats offer good views for this production. Just wear layers as the theatre can warm up during a performance.

The lighting wasn’t noticeable which means it was perfect, because it unobtrusively drew our eyes to the action and created moods without the technique ever showing. All the actors wore unobtrusive mikes which meant each subtle tone had clarity, while sounding natural.

Not just bits of song inserted into the action, Sondheim’s music and lyrics propel the play forward with plot points.A Little Night Musicis both humorous and poignant. It comes together with clarity when Katey Wright, as Desiree sings, “Send in the Clowns” ruefully reviewing her life. The house bristled with rapt stillness.

When Kimmel and Wright reprise the song, the orchestra’s support unobtrusively swells the effect. (Note to self: bring hankie next time) With only a loud sneeze from the audience to intrude, the strength of the mood continued, unabated, ending the show on a hopeful note.

The opening night reception offered a chance to mingle with other theatre-goers and to get their opinions as we ate utterly delicious nibblies from patron, Sheraton Airport Hotel, and light-as-air cake from Anna’s Bakery.

It’s clear our theatre draws theatre-goers from beyond Richmond.

One couple from Vancouver said Gateway was an underrated gem and they tried to never miss a show.

Another couple liked breaking their commute from Vancouver to Surrey by taking in the plays at Gateway. They loved having the time to dine nearby before the 8 p.m. curtain.

A third couple were long-time season ticket holders from White Rock who relish the top quality performances while appreciating the shorter trip than a Vancouver play demands.

This reviewer too finds it a treat to live 5 minutes from professional theatre.

It puts paid to the saying, “If you’re so good, why are you in Richmond?” The answer?

Because, we deserve such quality theatre, right here, in Richmond.

Get your tickets while you still can. Runs until Oct 21.

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