Whenever you spend enough time with a subset of culture, you start to develop opinions and start to recognize patterns and tropes. Maybe you love all the Shonda Rhimes shows, and you notice her reuse of actors across different shows, or phrases that come up again and again. Or you ADORE sci-fi movies, and will watch them all good and bad, and you can start to predict which alien species are secretly plotting against the humans, or which piece of technology will go wrong, just because that’s the way it is. The Boy and I have been semi-active in the DC theater scene for nearly our entire relationship, and so we have actors and particular venues that we’re attached to. We think Tom Story is the new Floyd King in DC Theater, and while we love the Shakespeare Theater, we think the Folger Shakespeare theater is an intimate gem of a location.
An actress that we are particularly fond of, mostly because she surprises us on any given occasion in which she performs, is Holly Twyford. We saw her as Queen Elizabeth in the story of “Mary Stuart”, and then as Bottom (the one who acquire’s ass’s ears) in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. She was really good in both. So when we got a postcard in the mail from Signature Theater (once you’ve bought tickets from one theater in the area, they seem to pass your information around) announcing that Twyford would be taking on her first role in a musical – in Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music”.
Now, performing in your first musical when you’ve generally been acting in straight plays should be intimidating enough. But for one, she’s playing the lead role, and for a second – it’s Sondheim. Sondheim’s music is known for making use of complex harmonic structures, for using dissonance, intricate melodies, and difficult harmonies between singers. Definitely not easy stuff if you haven’t ever been officially trained as a singer. But lucky for Twyford, this is a part that was originally written for someone who wasn’t a singer. In fact, Glynnis Johns who originated the role sang it’s most famous song – “Send in the Clowns” – in a somewhat-spoken manner (think Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady). So while it’s a part that does require some level of musical talent, it’s inhabiter doesn’t need to be a virtuoso.
What Twyford does spectacularly is express emotion. So while she does a good job in the singing, she does a terrific job in making you feel all the feelings that her character, Desiree Armfeldt is experiencing. It is a joy. It also helps that the Signature Theater which is putting on this production (no surprise since they LOVE Sondheim) is a sort of jewel box – very close in, but richly set with lights and colors and metal fixtures. You are so close in to the action, and with runway ramps that actors move along that go between the audience, you feel even closer as you watch them pass by you on their way on- or off-stage.
Many of the other actors are excellent as well, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the performance of Tracy Lynn Olivera as Charlotte Malcolm. Olivera is playing the wife of a man who is blatant about his affairs, and so Charlotte in Olivera’s hands is a sort of dry and bitter woman. But Olivera delivers her lines with such flatness of tone and a sort of constant disbelief with her lot in life that you can’t help but laugh. She is, in playing the straight man to her flustered husband, the real comic gem of the show. Every time she was on stage was a pleasure, and every line delivered a chance to laugh.
It’s a wonderful show. We had such a good time. I wish I could write this without sounding like I was gushing, but I can’t. It’s not a show that I went in to knowing many songs, despite the fact that I saw the Broadway revival starring Catherine Zeta-Jones a few years back. So being surprised by something that felt new and special from a familiar composer was a lovely experience. I’ll stop gushing now – but you really should go and see the show, because it’s worth your time and money.