Kevin Pieper, Callen Sederquist, Rachel C. Vickers, Sarah Lounsberry, and Michael VanBelle in A Little Night Music

The Quad Cities’ summer-theatre season is finally underway and Quad City Music Guild’s production of A Little Night Music, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, a book by Hugh Wheeler, and directed by Colleen Houlihan, is a good start to it, boasting strong performances and some killer vocals.

A Little Night Music debuted in 1973 and won the Tony Award for Best Musical. Since then, it’s received a smattering of revivals and international productions, but it’s one of Sondheim’s more rarely produced scripts. After attending Thursday’s invited-dress rehearsal, I think I may have an inkling as to why. It was my first exposure to the musical and I knew nary a thing going in. And for those like me, read closely, as I was lost through most of the first act.

Wheeler's plot is centered around three-ish couples. I say “ish” because there’s a great deal of flux in who’s in a relationship with whom, with constantly shifting boundaries of affection. At the start, there’s Petra (Amelia Fischer) and Henrik (Noah Hill), the latter of whom seems to be a tragicomic transplant from Chekhov’s The Seagull. There’s also Desiree (Rachel C. Vickers), a famous actor, and her lover Count Carl-Magnus (Michael Van Belle). Finally, there’s Fredrik (Kevin Pieper) and his new virgin bride Anne (Callen Sederquist). She’s 18 and he’s at least 50. Anne has a line in which she mentions growing up calling him Uncle. (Which … yuck.)

But wait: Henrik is infatuated with Anne. And Carl-Magnus is already married to Charlotte (Sarah Lounsberry). And Fredrik and Desiree start having an affair, creating a love triangle in the midst of a preexisting love triangle. Oh, and there’s a troupe of actors who perform a farce within the farce and serve as a sort of Greek Chorus. And let's not forget Madame Armfeldt (Pam Cantrell), the mother of Desiree and grandmother of Fredrika (Lucy Petersen), who has frequent scenes during which she discusses life. If you’re confused, I understand.

Michael VanBelle and Kevin Pieper in A Little Night Music

Many of these connections are not gleaned from dialogue but blocking and music. Sondheim's score starts off desynchronized, out of beat, with overlapping notes and harmonies, and eventually slides into place over the course of the lengthy first act. And I would love to go into more detail about the second act and the Ingmar Bergman film (Smiles of a Summer Night) all of this is inspired by, but I still have so much ground to cover.

Even a couple of days later, I’m of two minds about Thursday’s dress rehearsal. I enjoyed the production values and acting, but can’t help but feel like I didn’t enjoy the story or how it was told. Or maybe I just didn’t get it. That could even be the point. Full disclosure, I’m not the biggest fan of musicals to begin with, and I have a love-hate relationship with Sondheim. I can appreciate how well written his material is, but I also get annoyed because the material itself knows that it’s well written. If you’re nodding along as you read, this show probably won’t win you over. But if you are a fan, you’ll find a lot to love.

A large part of my uncertainty stems from what I perceive as a disconnect between the book and the music. Were this just a straight play, it would be a pretty funny farce. And were it a straight operetta it would feature pretty music. It’s both and neither. Which could be the point, confounding as that may be. Houlihan's production, though, is still making me think days later (beyond my required duties as a reviewer), which is something I unabashedly love. That I’m struggling with whether or not I actually enjoyed it is immaterial.

Amelia Fischer, Noah Hill, and Callen Sederquist in A Little Night Music

I’ve yet to touch on the splendid performances, of which there are many. Sederquist is charming as the pent-up bride. Petersen brings tons of energy as the precocious granddaughter. Meanwhile, Van Belle brings a grand operatic quality to his portrayal that helps add to the silliness of everything. But the real knockout of the evening is Vickers. Her performance is dignified, her natural speaking voice is melodious, and her rendition of “Send in the Clowns” may alone be worth the price of admission.

The show's technical elements are strong, with some gorgeous period costumes by Cathy Marsoun. Steve Parmley's lighting design is multi-colored and adds to the dreaminess of the evening. And Aaron Deneckere's impressionistic set design greets you as you enter the auditorium. Featuring a hanging chandelier, the concept of a tree, and a bed too large and low to be believed, it helps convey the feeling of what’s happening, as opposed to delivering strict literalism, which I greatly enjoyed.

Music Guild’s latest is confounding, disorienting, and delightful. I could easily have doubled the word count of this review and still had thoughts to spare. If you’re a fan of Sondheim, this is the show for you. And even if you’re not, there’s still plenty here to like, with gorgeous vocals, dreamy visuals, and an 11th-hour number to bring the house down.


Quad City Music Guild’s A Little Night Music runs at the Prospect Park Auditorium (1584 34th Avenue, Moline IL) through June 16, and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)762-6610 and visiting

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