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At BoHo Theatre, ‘A Little Night Music’ remains a delightful escape

Peter Robel and Kelli Harrington in a scene from BoHo Theatre's production of "A Little Night Music." | Liz Lauren

Stephen Sondheim’s “A Weekend in the Country” is a treacherous labyrinth of a song. It comes about midway through BoHo Theatre’s “A Little Night Music,” as the 14-strong ensemble weaves at least half a dozen melodic lines together in a celebration of a few days away in a pastoral wonderland. The song turns out to be a microcosm of the entire show: sad, funny, true and playfully raging with delicious sexual intrigue.

‘A Little Night Music’
★★★
When: Through July 8
Where: BoHo Theatre at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln
Tickets: $35
Info: BoHoTheatre.com
Run time: 2 hours, 30 minutes including one intermission

In director Linda Fortunato’s “A Little Night Music,” every person on stage uses Sondheim’s music and lyrics with the surgical precision of a scalpel to the heart. If there were any doubts as to whether music director Tom Vendafreddo was up to a show that’s Peak Sondheim, they die here.

Inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s film “Smiles of a Summer Night” and featuring a book by Hugh Wheeler, “A Little Night Music” explores the tangled liaisons among a group of friends, spouses and lovers in 1900 Sweden. BoHo brings it to life with beauty both auditory and visual.

The epicenter of the musical is Kelli Harrington’s Desiree Armfeldt, an actress who reunites with Fredrik Egerman (Peter Robel), a lawyer she once loved, and perhaps loves still. To watch Harrington’s gorgeous performance is to shake your fist at the sky and rage anew at a universe that awards Tonys to movie stars who deliver lesser Desirees. Harrington’s “Send in the Clowns” is one of the best you’ll hear of the endlessly covered song. Bring a handkerchief — you will weep.

Rachel Klippel (from left), Lazaro Estrada and Emily Goldberg in a scene from BoHo Theatre’s production of “A Little Night Music.” | Liz Lauren

The plot follows the reunion of Desiree and Fredrik, who are still clearly meant for each other. A union, however, seems impossible given Egerman’s marriage to Anne (Rachel Guth, whose pretty, silvery soprano is fittingly flighty), a teenage virgin who has maintained that status 11 months into the marriage.

As Fredrik and Desiree fall back in love, Anne finds her feelings for her adult stepson Henrik (Jordan Dell Harris) increasingly hard to ignore. Harris’ Henrik is a linchpin here, glowering, gloomy and endearing. He’s simultaneously comic and tragic, a fervently wrathful adult who is also very much a lonely child.

The waters are stirred further by Desiree’s pea-brained lover Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Christopher Davis). Davis portrays the count as a bloviating delight (much in the vein of Ted Baxter from the “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”).  His long-suffering wife Charlotte (an understated but caustically hilarious Stephanie Stockstill) remains hopelessly in love with Carl-Magnus anyway.

Also looming large under the midnight sun: Petra (Teressa LaGamba), a maid who has her own gloriously sex-positive agenda for that weekend in the country. LaGamba’s take on “The Miller’s Son” sounds positively fecund — an explosive celebration of lust and a poignant exploration of what awaits us all once we’ve made “the very short trip from the pinch and the punch/to the paunch and the pouch.”

All are watched over by Desiree’s regal, all-seeing mother, Madame Armfeldt (an imperious Marguerite Mariama), a woman whose expertly played youthful trysts netted her a country manse and a Belgian Duchy, among other things. Finally, there’s Desiree’s precocious daughter Fredrika (Isabelle Roberts, simultaneously precocious and beaming with innocence.)

Vendafreddo’s tiny orchestra (Mike Matlock on woodwinds, violinist Sarah Kim and cellist Magdalena Sustere) is a wonder. Matlock’s flute sounds as ethereal as stars straining to be seen under that omnipotent sun. Sustere’s cello is as much a part of Henrik’s character as his words. And on piano, Vendafreddo evokes the bittersweet nostalgia for loves lost but never forgotten.

Bravos are in order for Evan Frank (set design) and G. Max Maxin (lights), whose work captures the unsettling presence of a sun bathing the world in harsh, white light for much of the night. Ditto costumer Christina Leinicke, whose creations of creamy lace and white linen evoke the beauty of high summer.

In the maid Petra’s wise words, it’s a very short trip “(f)rom the push and the whoop / to the squint and the stoop,” and it’s imperative to “celebrate what passes by.” Including BoHo’s “A Little Night Music.”

Catey Sullivan is a local freelance writer.