Commentary
5:18 am
Mon July 21, 2014

Sondheim and Summer Nights

If you’re in the mood for A Little Night Music, you can catch it at Guild Hall Theatre, at St. James Episcopal Church.

The musical is based on Ingmar Bergman’s film Smiles of a Summer Night, and it has the distinction of being performed frequently as an operetta, due to the difficulty of the music, which includes complex meters, pitch changes and plenty of high notes. It has been performed by New York City Opera, the Houston Grand Opera, and the Los Angeles Opera, among others.

The show is perhaps best known for the song, “Send in the Clowns.” Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the music and the lyrics for the show, told The Guardian newspaper in 2003 that the song emerged as the heart of the show, although it did not become well known until Judy Collins, and then Frank Sinatra, recorded it. “Somebody asked Sinatra what it was about,” Sondheim recalled. “He said, ‘Listen, you love a chick, she walks out, send in the clowns.’ That was his explanation.”

In a departure from his usual style, Sondheim wrote “Send in the Clowns” for one particular performer, Glynis Johns. He said she had “a lovely crystal voice, but sustaining notes was not her thing. I wanted to write short phrases, so I wrote a song full of questions.”

At the Shubert Theatre in New York City on February 24, 1973, Glynis Johns created the role of Desiree Armfeldt on Broadway, and won a Tony for it. The show also won Sondheim a Tony for Best Original Score.

For me, A Little Night Music on a warm summer evening sounds like just the thing.

For more local theatre offerings, check out KMUW's events calendar.