Intimate space and strong cast breathes life into an old favorite

The Cherry Creek Theatre’s production of “A Little Night Music” is an overall solid production of a challenging play. It boasts a seasoned cast talented in both acting and singing; particularly important since Stephen Sondheim’s compositions are largely dissonant and demand strong voices.

“A Little Night Music” is a mix of both musical theatre and operetta, with a score primarily developed in waltz time. Director Kelly Van Ossbree accurately sums it up in the program notes as an advanced score combining bitter-sweet music with nimble lyrics.

This 45-year-old show is poignant and light-hearted, but drags a bit by today’s standards. The characters and situations, however, are timeless, and the theme of the eternal search for love stands the test of time.

Set in Sweden during the early 1900s, the musical tells the story of a small group – bound together by complicated romantic entanglements – coming together for an elegant dinner at a country estate.

This show starts slow, and it takes a while to figure out who’s with who and how they’re related. But once this becomes clear, you become caught up in this comedic drama.

Romantic rivals Fredrick Egerman (Brian Merz-Hutchinson) and Count Carl-Magnus Malcom (Jeremy Rill) are convincing as the lovers of beautiful actress, Desiree (Susie Roelofsz). The two have honed their characters’ personalities so they sharply contrast – Egerman as the confused nice guy, and Malcom the delightfully maniacal and jealous lover.

Most of the female characters are united by their jealousy of her. While, ironically, Desiree herself wants to simplify things and settle down.

The intimate size of the Mizel’s block-box theater, which seats about 100, places you close to the action. But it was still difficult to catch all of the lyrics despite strong performances by most of the cast.

Almost everyone in this small cast is a standout, including youngest member Sophia Dotson. At just 12 and already the winner of a Henry Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress, she convincingly plays the role of wise-beyond-her-years Fredrika Armfeldt.

In her portrayal of Desiree’s daughter, she’s gifted with one of the best lines when she confirms that love must be worth the trials and tribulations transpiring around her when asked by her grandmother (Susan Long), “what it’s all for?”

Playing her sage grandmother, longtime actress Long is also wonderful. While she dispenses sound advice to Fredrika, we get clear glimpses of her saucy, younger self as she waxes nostalgic about past lovers with a mischievous gleam in her still lively eyes.

The count’s wife Countess Charlotte Malcom, solidly portrayed by Megan Van De Hey, has the best laugh-out-loud lines – some just single-syllable responses to her husband’s bluster.

Several cast members do double-duty performing in the Greek chorus, which comments on the action on the play. This initially added to the confusion of the play’s first few moments, but worked well overall.

The austere set also works – particularly since this production requires concentration from the audience to follow the complicated score and lyrics. Moving parts of the set and turning the main round stage was incorporated into their roles and actions, which added to the challenging aspects of the production.

Many will recognize the most popular songs from the long-running Broadway musical, including “Every Day a Little Death,” “You Must Meet My Wife” and, of course, “Send in the Clowns.” As the aging prima donna actress, Roelofsz’s impactful rendition of “Send in the Clowns” was the crowning moment in the show.

The live musical accompaniment provided by a small group of musicians was well done and gave the production a sense of intimacy. David Short’s cello was particularly evocative in the first act.