A Little Night Music

Patty Neiman stars as Desiree Armfeldt and Joseph Cannon is her lover, Carl-Magnus, in “A Little Night Music” at Theater Works in Peoria.

Photo courtesy of Bo Allen

The Broadway song “Send in the Clowns” is the most recognizable number in Stephen Sondheim’s musical “A Little Night Music.”

Many famous artists recorded the tune, including Frank Sinatra, Grace Jones, Barbra Streisand, Shirley Bassey and Sarah Vaughan.

Now, Patty Nieman will belt out the song in the leading role of Desiree Armfeldt in the musical, which opens today at Theater Works.

“I’m very excited about it because it’s such an iconic song,” Nieman said. “And people who only know the song can see it in full context.”

Nieman, an Actors Equity actress, said she’s performed in a production of “A Little Night Music” before but never as Desiree.

But she does identify with her character.

“I love the fact that she’s an actress and done some touring, so there are some very similar parallels with my life to her life,” said Nieman, who recently moved to the Valley and makes her Arizona debut at Theater Works.

“A Little Night Music” centers on Fredrik Egerman and his unhappy marriage with his wife.

Fredrik goes to see an old flame, the famous actress Desiree Armfeldt, who is tired of her life and thinking of settling down, so she sets her sights on him despite having a married lover.

Desiree has her mother invite the Egermans to her country estate for the weekend. But when her lover and his wife appear as well, things take a turn.

“The musical is about complex relationships and how they work themselves out,” Nieman said.

In 1973, “A Little Night Music” debuted on Broadway and won the Tony Award for Best Musical. A film version was released several years later with Elizabeth Taylor as Desiree.

Interest in the musical occurred again in 2009 with a Broadway revival which starred Angela Lansbury and Catherine Zeta-Jones, who won a Tony for her performance. Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch replaced the two after they finished their runs with show.

David Vining, director of “A Little Night Music,” said he’s always been “entranced” by the musical.

“The show is well written with the dialog and the music is Sondheim at his best,” said Vining. “It’s great ride and very infectious.”

Vining added that it’s not easy to produce the musical, which needs excellent singers and actors.

“You need the right people and voices for it to go over well and I have the right cast who can pull it off,” he said.

He hopes audiences embrace the musical like some of Sondheim’s other popular works.

“I believe they’ll connect to the material, even though it’s not as extreme as ‘Sweeney Todd’ or farcical as ‘Into the Woods,’” he said. “This show is about beautiful people and takes place in a time of elegance, just before the 20th century, when life seemed very good and that afforded people a way of easy living,”

With “A Little Night Music,” Vining makes his return to directing musicals.

“I haven’t worked on a musical in a long time, but started out directing musicals in the beginning of my career,” he said. “Then I turned to acting and directing more serious work, but it’s great to be back and I really missed it.”

Nieman is glad to have Vining back in musical theater.

“This whole process has been fantastic because David is clear and articulate about what’s going on with this show,” Nieman said.

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