“Stunning! A wistful, magical musical with an all-around elegant staging makes this Sondheim musical a romantic, dreamy treat! A magical love story demands grace, rhythm, a sense of fantasy and delightful music. Mark Robinson does so with the right balance of elegance and craft..”
- The Memphis Commercial-Appeal
“Extraordinary! The award for Best Direction of a Musical should go to Mark Steven Robinson . . . A magnificent feast for the eyes! So many wonderful elements! The most fully-realized production to appear on TheatreMemphis' stage in years, its a show full of memorable numbers that would please the pants off Ingmar Bergman!”
- Memphis Flyer
Photos by Elven Blalock
Shortly after West Side Story opened on Broadway in 1957, Harold Prince and Stephen Sondheim first came up with the notion of collaborating on a musical with a score made up entirely of waltzes. After their prizewinning Folliesclosed on Broadway - at a considerable financial loss - the pair resumed work on their creation: a story which would be freely-adapted from Ingmar Bergman's 1956 film comedy Smiles of a Summer Night, and most importantly, a certain audience pleaser.
A Little Night Music quickly evolved into a gentle, contemporary, waltzing operetta; containing two commodities rarely found in Sondheim's musicals: a truly happy ending and a hit song: Judy Collin's recording of "Send In The Clowns" became a international pop hit and placed Sondheim for the first and only time on the Billboard Pop Singles chart. It is but one gem in an inventive show sparkling with breathtaking melodies and intricate, perceptive lyrics: "A Weekend In The Country", for example, transformed what might have been pages and pages and pages of expositional dialogue into one of the greatest Act One finales ever written for the musical theatre.
It has been an absolute delight directing the opening production of Theatre Memphis' 85th Season, and I hope you enjoy the sweeping romance of Night Music as much as I've enjoyed collaborating with the production team in bringing this very special musical to your stage.
-- Mark Robinson
A Little Night Music
Spotlight on night's big secrets
By Christopher Blank
August 27, 2004
Of all the shows Mark Robinson could have chosen for his second directing gig at Theatre Memphis, one was on his list of things to do since the first time he saw it in New York. Make that the first time he saw it three times in a row.
Tonight the guest director opens "A Little Night Music," one of Stephen Sondheim's less frequently performed works. It remains memorable for theatergoers, however, for the bittersweet tune "Send In the Clowns," a piece that made the leap from stage to popular music and then to karaoke bars across the country.
"I'm having the time of my life directing this show," Robinson said. "The music is like candy. I go home from rehearsals and listen to the cast recording. It's a delicious piece of music."
Robinson, 40, is away from his home in New York City's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood to open Theatre Memphis's new season. He occupied the premier spot last year with "Hello, Dolly!" His second Bluff City visit is a breeze compared to last summer's whirlwind, when his arrival coincided with the fierce storm that left the city in shambles for weeks. On top of working with a cast distracted by home repairs, "Hello, Dolly!" required a frantic rehearsal schedule and a large amount of choreography.
This visit has changed his feelings toward theater in Memphis, he says. The venue's administration has changed; executive director Ted Strickland was replaced by Debbie Litch at the start of the year. There's also a new director of music, Gary Beard.Robinson is working once again with actress Ann Sharp (who was his Dolly). The lobby has been renovated, and the staff, says Robinson, "has this incredible energy. I really think there's a renaissance going on here."
Even with all the energy surrounding him, "Night Music" is a romantic comedy that, as the title indicates, demands a less frenzied rehearsal process. Based on the 1955 film "Smiles of a Summer Night" by Ingmar Bergman, the musical is about three mismatched couples who spend a truth-telling "weekend in the country" together. As their secrets are uncovered, a chorus keeps tabs on the action.
"This is early Sondheim," Robinson said of the show that debuted on Broadway in 1973. "I feel that it's one of his most accessible scores. The songs are very traditional, all written in three-quarter waltz time, or the time of a heartbeat."
Robinson says it's one of his top five musicals, and calls its direction "effortless." "This was the one show I wanted to do more than any other," he said. "'Night Music' is a relationship musical and has one of the strongest librettos written for the theater."
Lura Turner (left), Bill Burch, JemmiLou Rye, Joe Lackie and Julie Freeman as the Liebeslieders in a scene from Theatre Memphis's production of "A Little Night Music."