Directed by HAROLD PRINCE and choreographed by PATRICIA BIRCH
First produced at the Shubert Theatre, New York, on February 25, 1973, with Glynis Johns as "Desirée", Len Cariou as "Fredrik", Hermione Gingold as "Madame Armfeldt", Victoria Mallory as "Anne", and Laurence Guittard as "Carl-Magnus."
AS the play begins, the quintet of singers vocalizes ("Night Waltz"), they then break into a surreal waltz in which the principal characters jump from one partner to another. As the music fades, old Madame Armfeldt is discovered playing cards with her young granddaughter, Fredrika. The older woman explains the three types of smiles that are to be found upon a summer night on human beings. The first smile is for the very young, like Fredrika, who know nothing. The second is for fools like her mother, Desirée, who know too little. And the type of smiles if for the very old, like Madame Armfeldt herself, who know too much.
Next we meet Anne, the teenage wife of Fredrik Egerman. She is busy teasing her stepson, Henrik, a serious young seminary student who is actually a year older than Anne. Fredrik soon returns home with theatre tickets. Anne is delighted and begins to search her closet for an appropriate dress. Fredrik attempts to kiss his young bride, but she avoids him. They have been married now for eleven months, but have, apparently, never consumated their marriage. Quite aware of the difference in their ages, Fredrik has made every effort to be patient with Anne in this matter, but after eleven months, his patience is fading. Meanwhile, downstairs, Henrik laments that no one in this house takes him seriously. His father doesn't take him seriously. Anne certainly doesn't take him seriously. Even the maid, Petra, refuses to take him seriously, pushing him off when he attempts to make advances to her.
Next we meet Desirée Armfeldt, Madame Armfeldt's daughter and the actress that the Egerman's are going to the theatre to see. She sings of the glamorous life she leads, from which she sometimes escapes to visit her daughter Fredrika. At the theatre, Anne is uneasy; she is convinced that Desirée, who plays the rôle of a coquette, is taking special notice of her husband. Intimidated by Desirée's beauty, Anne begins to cry and demands that Fredrik take her home immediately.
Back at the Egerman residence, Henrik tries once more to put the moves on Petra and, once more, he suffers a humiliating failure. Upstairs, Fredrik reminds Anne once more of his desire to have sexual relations with her, but Anne is still not ready; she cannot help but think of Fredrik as the dear, kind Uncle Fredrik who visited her father's home when she was a child. In spite of this, however, she cannot bear the thought that he might secretly admire Desirée Armfeldt. After putting Anne to bed, Fredrik sneaks out of the house and sets out to meet the very actress who has excited such jealousy in his young bride. We soon discover that, fourteen years ago, Fredrik and Desirée had had a passionate love affair. Fredrik reveals the sexual frustration that is building up because of the situation with his wife, and Desirée is only too willing to help him release some of this tension. Together, they vanish into the bedroom as a spotlight appears on old Madame Armfeldt who sings of "Liaisons." We return shortly to Fredrik and Desirée who have completed their mission only to be interrupted by Desirées insanely jealous lover, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm. Desirée attempts, without much success, to explain Fredrik's presence in her room. Still, the Count chooses to believe that nothing intimate has occurred between her and Fredrik.
The next morning, Malcolm relates these events to his wife, Charlotte. The name Egerman strikes a chord, and Charlotte realizes that Anne is a schoolfriend of her little sister. Charlotte sets her mind to inform Anne of her husband's whereabouts the previous night. When Charlotte actually meets Anne, she is surprised by the younger woman's innocence and curses this Desirée Armfeldt who has secretly stolen both of their husbands. After Charlotte departs, Henrik finds Anne in tears and tries desperately to comfort her.
Meanwhile Desirée, who is enjoying a brief vacation from her theatrical tour on her mother's estate, decides to invite Fredrik and his family for "A Weekend in the Country." Anne is thrilled by the invitation until she recognizes the name. Anne doesn't know what to do, but Charlotte advises her to accept the invitation and to go looking as young as possible so as to "shame Desirée back behind her wrinkles." Charlotte then slips news of the invitation to her husband who, furious, announces that they will attend as well, invited or not. Back at Madame Armfeldt's estate, Desirée's intentions become clear when she asks Fredrika if she would like a new father.
As everyone begins to arrive at the estate, tensions begin to build almost immediately. Desirée is quite startled by the unexpected arrival of Carl-Magnus and his wife. Everyone seems to have a plan of their own. Charlotte reveals to Anne that she intends to sleep with Fredrik in order to make her husband jealous and force him to return to her. Meanwhile, Henrik reveals to Fredrika that he has fallen deeply in love with Anne, his father's wife. As all of the visitors gather for dinner, the room is filled to the brim with deadly glances, secret desires and barely concealed accusations. Finally, it is too much for Henrik. He smashes a glass on the table and reprimands everyone for their behavior. How can they, he demands, reveal such vulgar emotions in the presence of an innocent like Anne? He then storms angrily from the room and heads for the lake.
When Anne comes looking for Henrik, she finds, instead, Fredrika, who reveals Henrik's feelings for her. Together, the two girls continue their search for Henrik, hoping to prevent the young man from doing himself harm. At this same moment, Fredrik and Desirée rendezvous in the actress' room. Desirée reveals that she is rather unhappy with her life and would like to be with Fredrik. Fredrik, for his part, thinks that he might want this as well. He is coming to realize that perhaps he has only been trying to bring back his own youth by taking a child bride, but he is not sure of anything yet and excuses himself from Desirée's room.
Down by the lake, Anne finally finds Fredrik and prevents him from hanging himself. The young man finds the courage to return Anne's kisses, and there, in the woods, Anne finally gives up her virginity. Later, as Anne and Henrik sneak past the house to the stables to make their escape, Fredrik catches sight of them, but is too tired of it all to make any protest. Carl-Magnus, however, who has now joined Desirée in her bedroom despite protests from the actress, catches sight out the window of what he thinks is Fredrik and his wife in a compromising position. Furious, he pulls on his trousers and challenges Fredrik to a game of Russian roulette. He accepts, and the game ends with Fredrik, wounded, in Desirée's arms.
As events draws to a close, Fredrika asks her grandmother what kind of smile the evening has produced. Madame Armfeldt replies that the evening has smiled for the young ones and for the fools, and as she passes away, she adds that it will now smile for the old. A Night Waltz is heard, and once more the principal characters appear in a surreal waltz, this time paired off as the evening's events have suggested.
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|This synopsis for "A Little Night Music" was written by J. Crabb and originally published on this website on April 2, 2002.