A Little Night Music Reviews
By and large, I prefer taking singers and getting them to act over taking actors and dubbing them with people who can sing. There are exceptions, and Gods know there are actors who turn out to be able to sing quite well. See, for example, Rick Moranis in [i]Little Shop of Horrors[/i]. I suppose the thought was that, if you get a big name like Elizabeth Taylor, people will actually go see a movie like this. I can't find statistics, but I rather suspect it didn't work. The fact that it's obvious she was dieting over the course of filming didn't help, either. However, Hollywood has the curious tendency of avoiding casting the person who originated a role on Broadway in the movie. Ask Julie Andrews, Angela Lansbury, and Carol Channing. Or possibly Audrey Hepburn, Lucille Ball, and Barbra Streisand.
Fourteen years ago, Desiree Armfeldt (Taylor) had an affair with Frederick Egerman (Len Cariou). It's never explicitly stated, but they had a daughter, Fredericka (Chloe Franks). Fredericka used to tour with her mother, but one day, Madame Armfeldt (Hermione Gingold), Desiree's mother, took Fredericka to live with her, and now, Desiree tours alone. Eventually, her tour takes her to the city nearest her mother's estate--which is also where Frederick lives. He has now married Anne (Lesley-Anne Downs), a sweet and virginal--literally--young woman. They live with his son from his first marriage, Erich (Christopher Guard). Frederick takes Anne to see Desiree's play, but Anne works out that there was something between them. However, there is currently something between Desiree and Carl-Magnus Mittelheim (Laurence Guittard). To the fury of his wife, Charlotte (Diana Rigg). And all of this boils over when Desiree invites the Egermans to stay with her and her family for the weekend--and the Mittelheims crash the party.
And the best part is that all this is based on a Bergman film. Which I haven't actually seen. Curious, really; given that I actually saw this show live once, you'd think I would have sought it out long since. It's obvious why I haven't gotten to it in the last couple of years. The film is called [i]Smiles of a Summer Night[/i], which starts with "S." I won't get to it for some time. But it does reinforce my stance that Stephen Sondheim will make musicals out of any source which interests him even a little. No one else would make this. No one else should have. But Sondheim manages to weave believable characters into a farcical tale. With few exceptions--with one exception--they're causing their own problems, but they're problems you believe people cause for themselves. If you're like me, you've probably either done it yourself or watched other people doing it.
On the other hand, it's a pretty lousy adaptation of the musical. Remember that I have seen it live, and I'd listened to a lot of the music long before that. They changed things around to make it more appealing to mass audiences, which I really wish people would stop doing. It hardly ever works. And in this case, the problem is only partly that they cut one of my favourite songs. ("The Miller's Son," sung by Petra--here Lesley Dunlop.) I'll admit that the song doesn't necessarily add much to the storyline, but I think it summarizes how most of the characters ended up in the situation they're in when the show starts. There is also, however, the inexplicable shift in location from Sweden, where movie and stage show are of course set (Bergman!), to Austria. Practically all this does is require changing various character names, I think, and even if it changed more than that, I don't think there's really a reason for the change. Besides, a summer's night in Sweden is notably different from one much farther south.
It's difficult to get Sondheim made, I think. He isn't really writing anymore; well, he's eighty and entitled to relax a little. But I think his most famous stuff is work he wrote in collaboration. Everyone knows [i]West Side Story[/i], and I think probably most people know [i]Gypsy[/i]. They may well know "Send in the Clowns," but I don't think they know this show in particular. And unfortunately, I don't really think I can advise people to watch the movie if they aren't already familiar with Sondheim's work in general. Certainly it isn't where I'd suggest people start on an exploration of his work. Indeed, I'm afraid I'd have to start by advising looking at the collaborations, if you're limiting yourself to theatrical-release Sondheim. Though I wouldn't suggest that. I think, if you're going to start exploring the work of a great American composer and lyricist, the best place to start is the [i]Great Performances[/i] production of [i]Into the Woods[/i]. Only eventually should you come back here, and mostly to lament what could have been.