Last year, I was very impressed with the Mercer Players’ rendition of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. I came out of that theater wondering if they were going to be able to top the performance. I’m going to be honest: after a side-splitting, well-acted romp like that, I wasn’t sure they would.
To my delight and astonishment, they did it.
The Mercer Players just closed their successful season with a truly spectacular performance of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. The incorporation of actors from the community and the venue of the Grand Opera House did much to strengthen the performance, but the hard work and exceptional talent of the Mercer cast and crew made the play a near-masterpiece for Mercer’s theatre department.
The acting was, as usual, a great pleasure to watch. Finding someone who can act as well as sing is always a challenge, because many people who take the stage excel at one or the other, but not both. Unlike last year, when the amateur singers could be praised for their valiant effort but were ultimately overshadowed by their more musically gifted co-actors, there was not a weak voice on this cast.
However, a few people really shone on both the acting and the singing fronts. Senior Kyle Shook was brilliant as the jealous and blustering dragoon, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm. Most of Shook’s roles have fallen into the vein of the firm, serious lead who must remain steady and collected, and somewhat cool. While Shook always delivers satisfaction with his performances in these roles, one couldn’t help but feel that he was being boxed into the same character over and over. Shook blasted apart that box in A Little Night Music. As the Count, Shook flaunted his great range: flying off the handle, swaggering and being pompous to hilarious effect. And, what’s more, he can sing.
Senior music major Katie Trotter portrayed the Count’s wife, Charlotte. I had never seen Trotter perform before and I was blown away by her fantastic performance. Trotter’s character is as snide, witty, and sly as one of Oscar Wilde’s characters, and Trotter gave all of Charlotte’s lines a snippy little bite that was thrilling in its excellence. She’s a natural, and her ease onstage only endeared her more to the audience, which roared with laughter every time she got in a sardonic quip.
Detailing the skills of all the wonderfully talented cast members would take entirely too long, but it’s safe to say that the ensemble was, as a whole, spectacular. The group numbers were performed with a harmonious swell of voices that were thrilling to hear, and the chemistry of the cast was fairly spot-on. Monica Titus and Liam McDermott had an electric connection as the lovers Desiree Armfeldt and Fredrik Egerman, and Suzanne Stroup delivered a real show-stopper when she belted out the penultimate number, “The Miller’s Son.”
And can we talk about the set for just a second? The moving partitions, furniture and various other little touches were all painstakingly painted and selected to fit the period-specific feel of the play.
One might expect such an elaborate set to require lengthy and complicated scene changes, but the cast and crew were as efficient as a well-oiled machine. Aside from one difficult scene change that would have been avoided had they had more time to practice on the Grand’s stage, the scene changes all went off without a hitch. The benefits of the Grand’s technology definitely served the show well, incorporating birch trees that descended from the ceiling and a lighting system that could project a luminous moon or dappled sunlight onto the backdrop. Hands down, though, the most impressive part of the set was the house itself: the constructed outline of an English manor that could be dropped and raised at will. Those responsible for this set should be immensely proud.
As with any show, there were a few glitches, but almost every single mishap that occurred on the show’s opening night can be put down to one too few rehearsals on the Grand Opera House’s stage. A few microphones had technical difficulties throughout the night. Considering, though, that the cast is only able to rehearse three times on that stage before opening night, I’d say the show was a complete success despite the minor technical difficulties.
The Mercer Players should be proud. A Little Night Music was on the level of a professional performance. Scot Mann posted on his Facebook that the show was the most beautiful he had directed yet, and I’m going to have to agree. The seniors who are graduating should know that their final musical gift to the school was one gorgeous performance that is going to live in the audience’s memories for years to come. To the rest of the cast and crew: your performance in A Little Night Music has put you (or advanced you) on this viewer’s Must-Watch list for the rest of my time at Mercer. And to all of you: Bravo. Consider this review a standing ovation.