'A Little Night Music' to teach lessons on love

By Paige Pfleger, Daily Arts Writer
Published October 11, 2013

Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” is a Tony Award-winning musical centered on the romantic lives of several different couples, and how their passions intersect. Taking place circa 1900 in Sweden, the show revolves around the life of Fredrik Egerman, played by School of Music, Theatre & Dance senior Conor McGiffin. The show follows Egerman’s current relationship with his wife and a permeating love interest from the distant past.

A Little Night Music

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“The great thing about Sondheim is that no matter how gorgeous the music can be on the surface, there is always something happening within the music that lets you know that this isn’t something that you can just sit back and let wash over you,” McGiffin said. “There are always little details about who the characters are, and what is happening that Sondheim lets you know.”

In tackling such an intricate show, Director and Associate Professor of Musical Theater, Mark Madama, used his expert knowledge of Sondheim’s work. In his past years teaching at MT&D, he has worked on five Sondheim shows, including “Sunday in the Park with George” and “Into the Woods.”

Madama begins with the music and immediately gets the actors onstage to begin blocking. After the bare bones of the scenes are laid out, actors are encouraged to explore more deeply their character’s motives, and to discover new relationships and ways of communicating on stage.

“Every show has a different story,” Madama said. “This show is interesting because of its very mature subject matter. Tapping into the students and having them understand that mature level of relationships has been very rewarding.”

The show’s thematic scheme deals with love, sex, marriage, infidelity and how complex situations can be when said emotions are involved.

“I know the students all quite well,” Madama said of his cast, “and the thing that is so great is how they’ve embraced the material. They haven’t shied away from it; they’ve jumped in and embraced it. I’m excited to share the show with the audience.”

Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, the cast has still had fun creating the world of “A Little Night Music.” From discovering the possible harmful effects of the corsets that the women must wear for the show, to goofy face-offs between characters, McGiffin has fond memories of “Night Music,” not least because it is one of the last shows of his career here at the University.

“I’ve known Connor McGiffin since he’s been here and had him in three of my performance classes,” Madama said. “He’s embraced this character pretty fully. He’s found the maturity of this man, the contextual quality of this man; he sings the role great ... He really transforms himself into being a man that is older and who is involved in a relationship that at one time may have seemed completely satisfying and then changes.”

Approaching opening night, McGiffin will have the usual pre-show jitters, but this year, they come with a dash of nostalgia.

“When the curtains raise I anticipate looking around at all the freshmen who are working backstage and feeling a well of emotion,” McGiffin said, “because four years ago I was there.”

Above all else, McGiffin hopes that “A Little Night Music” will leave the audience with a few valuable lessons about love.

“Love is real,” McGiffin said. “The show is really about people at points in their lives missing the person they belong with. I want them to go away with the love of the music that was put forth, and to remember the comedy of the show, and that if you’re away from someone, you can always come back to it. Certain loves don’t fade away as time goes on. Respect the power of it. As the sage Huey Lewis once said, ‘That’s the power of love.’ ”