Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Smiles on a Summer Night

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Smiles on a Summer Night

Article excerpt

Mu Performing Arts offered a multicultural production of Night Music

What could be more delightful during the long summer days in Minnesota - with its large Scandinavian population - than to see confused Swedes contemplating the difficulties of relationships as played by a largely Asian cast? With a mix of some confection, some silliness and accompaniment by an excellent six-piece band led by Jason Hansen, Mu Performing Arts beautifully staged Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler 'sA Little Night Music (July 25-Aug. 10, 2014) in St. Paul's Park Square Theatre.

The company is the largest Asian-American performing arts organization in the Midwest. "Mu" (pronounced "moo") is the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese character for the shaman/artist/warrior who connects the heavens and the earth through the tree of life. Founded in 1992, Mu's primarymission has been to tell stories from the heart of the Asian-American experience. One of the company's first musical productions was Pacific Overtures in 2003. It also presented a fine rendition of Into the Woods in 2012.

Hal Prince's original 1973 production of Night Music was an effort to be a money-making hit, and it accomplished that goal. But that didn't prevent Sondheim and bookwriter Hugh Wheeler from crafting a show that rises above the standard Broadway musical. Compared to the full-throated razzmatazz of many other shows from that era, it has the feel of a chamber piece. Sondheim's use of a quintet of singers as a small chorus and his waltz-filled score continue to set Night Music apart.

Mu's production, staged by Rick Shiomi, took the time to ensure that the show's pace was definitely Scandinavian - that is, not frantic. The triptych of "Now"/"Later"/"Soon," a number that demonstrates Sondheim's masterful ability to convey character information within the confines of a song, provided the audience with insight behind the motivations for the coming actions.

Sheena Janson, who played Audrey II, the man-eating plant in Mu's 2011 production of Little Shop of Horrors, was Desirée Armfeldt. Almost echoing her character in that show, she infused Desirée with a strong, almost fierce will. From the moment Desirée decided to clarify the muddle that had been her life as a touring actress, Janson allowed the role's unwavering determination to shine through, making her performance of "Send in the Clowns" especially moving. …

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