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A state of affairs

'A Little Night Music' is a wildly charming, and surprisingly touching, musical comedy

A lot can happen on a weekend in the country, especially when there’s love in the air and secrets to be kept. Photo credit: Dennis K Photography

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There's something difficult about describing what goes on in A Little Night Music -- not because of its madcap plotting, but because of the unexpected manner in which the lunacy unfolds. This is, in its barest of bones, a delightfully amorous sex comedy, delivered via the labyrinthine music of Stephen Sondheim, and possessing a last-minute emotionality that flies wildly out of nowhere. To cut to the chase, I adored this show, in all its bravado and giddily oversexed energy.

It's the turn of the century in Sweden, and an assembly of couples will be meeting in a variety of complicated ways. At the center, there's the older Fredrik (Jonathan Bill) and his 18-year-old wife Anne (Juliet Hollifield); adjacently, actress Desiree (Casi Pruitt) is carrying on an affair with Count Carl-Magnus (Jamey Cheek), who also has a wife in Charlotte (Alyssa Hersey); Fredrik's son Henrik (Will Johnson), meanwhile, strives for a moral life, while struggling with his carnal desires. The main cast is rounded out by wonderful turns by Rosalie Hilburn as Desiree's mother and quasi-narrator Madame Armfeldt, and Hayley Ewerz as Anne's worldly maid Petra.

All of this is set up patiently, allowing for strands of connections to be made gradually, before everyone comes colliding together for the second act. Along the way, a chorus clues us in to the difficulties of lavish lifestyles, and the delirious simplicity of trysts; in one number, Desiree sings wistfully, pondering about what happened to liaisons. Lust is in the air, at every turn, even as sex stubbornly proves to be a confounding complication. Partners swap with one another, the status quo is consistently upended, and the unexplored depths of relationships are brought to the surface.

Tacoma Little Theatre's A Little Night Music is one of the most consistently funny shows I've had the pleasure of seeing, with not only the dialogue, but many of the songs packed with jokes and asides. The stellar ensemble deftly navigates the gymnastic demands of Sondheim's tongue-twisting songs, which can sometimes run the risk of being so densely packed that the lyrics get lost. As the show goes on, an air of melancholy settles in, crescendoing with the iconic, heartbreaking "Send in the Clowns," beautifully performed by Pruitt, and Bill responding devastatingly in kind.

Pruitt and Bill provide the beating heart of the show, but all of the actors should be applauded for so effortlessly tackling what can be a very strenuous show. I would've been fine with A Little Night Music sticking to its ostensible mode of near-farce and cheeky humor, but the way it reveals itself to have something a little more substantial on its mind was more than welcome. While the show doesn't have much to say about the trickiness of love and sex that hasn't been explored elsewhere, it does so with such verve that its relatively hefty runtime (all told, I left the theater after about three hours) flies by in a flash. Director John Munn, musical director Deborah Lynn Armstrong, and the outstanding cast ought to be overjoyed at the show they've put on.

A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, Pay What You Can 7:30 p.m., March 21, through March 31, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N. I St., Tacoma, $22-$27, 253.272.2281,

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