A Little Night Music: Synopsis, Songs & Music

Instructor: Chris Chouiniere

Chris has taught music and has a master's degree in music education.

This lesson will examine a rather naughty musical, featuring the famous Send in the Clowns, A Little Night Music. We'll look at the composer, the plot and the songs. Get ready for a wild night!

A Little Background About the Musical

Stephen Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics for A Little Night Music. The story is based on the movie Smiles of a Summer Night by Ingmar Bergman, and it is seriously naughty. If you like watching day time soaps then A Little Night Music might be right up your alley.

A Little Night Music was first run on Broadway in 1973. It has seen runs in the West End, been made into a film, been performed by the New York City Opera, and revived on Broadway in 2009. It has won a Tony for best musical, for best book, and for best original score, and a Drama Desk award for outstanding book, outstanding music, and outstanding lyrics.

It's probably worth noting that the title, A Little Night Music is the literal translation of Mozarts KV 525 for strings, Eine kleine Nachtmusik in G. Despite the name, there is no musical correlation.

A Little About the Composer - Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim
Stephen Sondheim

You'll be amazed at the list the musicals Stephen Sondheim is best known for: (as the composer and/or lyricist) - A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Follies, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, and Into the Woods, West Side Story and Gypsy. A veritable who's who of important musicals, but there's more! He wrote film music, including music for Reds and Dick Tracy. Just in case he needs more cred - he studied with Oscar Hammerstein II, the Hammerstein of Rodgers and Hammerstein, and later studied with Milton Babbitt, the hugely influential modern composer.

A Little Story Time

Have you ever done a Yankee gift swap? Everyone brings a gift, they exchange, and then each person has the chance to trade their gift. If you were to sum up the musical in one sentence, it might be like that. Only it's even messier. It's best to breakdown the characters first, so here we go.

First, there's Fredrik, an older man, who is married to Anne, who is 18 and still a virgin. He has a son, Henrik. Anne has a maidservant, Petra. That's the first group.

Next there's Desirée, an actress who Fredrik once had an affair with. Desirée has a daughter, Fredrika, and a mother, Madame Armfeldt. Madame has a manservant, Frid. Next up we've got Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, who is having an affair with Desirée, and his wife Countess Charlotte.

Madame Armfeldt
Madame Armfeldt

Now that we have the cast of characters, let's got down to the mess. First, it begins with a quote from Madame, that 'the summer night smiles 3 times: on the young, on the fools, and on the old.' Fredrik is feeling rather, how you say, needy, as he has been married for 11 months and Anne is still a virgin. He visits Desirée, confides in her his issue, and she obliges to address his problem. They get caught by the Count, who let's the information slip to his wife's sister, who is a friend of Anne's. Messy enough, right? Wait for act two, when they decide to all go to Madame 's country estate!

Anne ends up with Henrik (the young), who end up running away with each other; Frid ends up with Petra; Fredrik is seen with the Countess, which results in a game of Russian Roulette between Fredrik and the Count. The Count wins (Fredrik misses when the gun goes off), and he ends up back with the Countess. Fredrik and Desirée end up together, clumsily (the fools). Finally, Fredrika asks Madame who the old is that the summer night smiles on. Madame smiles and dies. Close the curtains, shows over!

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