Review: 'A Little Night Music' could use a little work

The University Theatre at Kansas University this week tackles a giant in the area of musicals. The theater's latest offering, "A Little Night Music," by musical theater wizard Stephen Sondheim, has all the makings of a class-act show but falls short in a number of areas.

The two-hour-plus show opened Friday at Crafton-Preyer Theatre to a modest crowd. One of the show's biggest flaws was apparent from the beginning, as the Liebeslieder Singers took the stage for the overture. At first, it seemed to be a group of impressive vocal performers, but it quickly became obvious that singing together was not so easy for the players. Many times throughout the show's barrage of long musical numbers, various vocalists fell flat in their delivery and competed with each other dynamically, making the lyrics unclear to the audience.

Individual solos were better. Some of the boldest stars showcased their upper ranges and operatic voice qualities, but together it was not cohesive. With a little work, there's no doubt the Liebeslieder Singers could be in perfect pitch before the end of the show's run.

Unfortunately for the cast, the next number did nothing to redeem the vocal problems of the overture. As the chorus combined with the cast for a large song and dance number, the addition of extra voices only worsened the pitch quality. Add to that a sloppy dance sequence, and the show was not off to a good start. Too many people crowded the stage in an awkward dance number that called for lots of partner switching and twirling. The cast seemed to be going through the motions rather than relishing the opportunity to show off a big dance number. These problems continued to plague the performers throughout the evening.

Despite these flaws, the performance definitely had its high points. Actress Averyn Mackey, playing the role of self-indulgent actress Desiree Armfeldt, shined in her time on stage. Her vocal performances never wavered, and she delivered her lines with perfect comic timing.

For the most part, in fact, the entire cast displayed fine acting quality, even though sometimes it was difficult to understand lines. The finale of the first act, a full-company rendition of "A Weekend in the Country," provided an energetic end to a shaky start.

Undertaking a Sondheim show is an arduous task. The University Theatre hasn't yet found the right formula but seems to have the potential to give an acceptable presentation. A little work on the finer points of singing and dancing would point them in the right direction.

The show repeats at 2:30 p.m today and 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Tickets can be purchased by calling 864-3982.

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