Vocalist - Baritone
Pops, Vocalists Make Beautiful 'Night Music' Together
To borrow a quip that Stephen Sondheim once made about his pal Leonard Bernstein, the score to "A Little Night Music" still has plenty of snap and crackle, and even a little bit of pop.

Apart from its slightly precious parlor trick of setting every song in some variation of three-quarter time, "Night Music" is perhaps Sondheim's most conventionally singable score, though also one of his most ingeniously constructed.

All this was nicely confirmed Tuesday night at Tanglewood, as conductor Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Orchestra, along with more than a dozen singers featuring headliner Christine Ebersole, offered a sparkling concert version of the 1973 show. (Hard to believe, for openers, that this fresh and contemporary-sounding piece of work is 35 years old. For a little Broadway context, that's roughly the amount of time that separates "Anything Goes" from "Hair.")

The term "concert version," in any case, doesn't quite capture the satisfying new hybrid that Broadway directors have been recently exploring as a means of presenting these big-orchestra musicals with actual big orchestras. As is the custom, for example, Tuesday's presentation featured some cleverly suggestive movement and interaction among its sizable cast and chorus.

But needless to say, the evening was primarily conceived as a showcase for Sondheim's one-time-only digression into Viennese lilt, and relatedly, Jonathan Tunick's witty, Ravel-like orchestrations.

Ebersole, one of our most versatile women of the musical theater, was a charming Desiree Armfeldt, the world-weary but still faintly starry-eyed actress whose long-ago dalliance with the lawyer Fredrik Egerman sets this fable in motion. She had a number of fine moments, but the keyed-up Tanglewood crowd was predictably waiting for one in particular: Desiree's flash of second-act self-awareness, "Send in the Clowns." The song is often glibly cited as Sondheim's one true standard, and although that's not really accurate, it's true that the tune's many years of certified lounge-lizard status have now made it difficult to render convincingly on the stage. Nevertheless, Ebersole managed to produce a tender, unmannered reading of it that stopped the show. Indeed, Ebersole was obliged to step out of character for a moment to acknowledge the cheers, or the performance might have ended then and there.

The other old pros in the cast included Ron Raines as a suitably clueless but ultimately goodhearted Egerman; and Bobbie Steinbach, perfectly cast as the tart-tongued matriarch of the Armfeldt line.

Comingling with these veterans were various young guns from Tanglewood's Vocal Fellows training program.

They were uniformly excellent.

A few merit special mention:

Soprano Ashley Logan, in the challenging role of Egerman's virginal teen bride, Anne, displayed a vocal maturity and heft that could well signal a major career.

Rebecca Jo Loeb, as the sexually adventurous maid Petra, not only relished the saucy side of her character, but later also delivered a hair-raisingly intense account of "The Miller's Son" that again sent the Tanglewood patrons into an extended rapture.

And baritone Matthew Worth ( West Hartford's own), as the strutting soldier Carl-Magnus Malcolm, not only showed us a musical command beyond his years, but also sported a genuine comic flair, a faculty always welcome in operatic baritones.

Finally, Lockhart hovered carefully and sensitively throughout, treating this finely calibrated work as the small masterpiece that -- thanks in part to productions like this one -- it manifestly is.
Steve Metcalf, Hartford Courant
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