A still from Smiles of a Summer Night. A woman in the forefront raises a hand while a man stands behind her.

A Little Night Music: Q&A with Director Chris Coleman

DCPA: What was your first experience with A Little Night Music?
Chris Coleman (CC): I’ve actually never seen a production! I just started listening to the soundtrack when I was in college and fell in love with it. “A Weekend in the Country” stuck in my head. I don’t know that I understood fully what [Sondheim] was doing when I was listening to it initially; I just thought it was different from the musicals that I grew up on, which would have been Music Man, My Fair Lady, A Chorus Line and Ain’t Misbehavin’. But A Little Night Music was something quite different. I thought that it was very adult — it’s sophisticated, complex, and very funny, but it’s got real substance. 

DCPA: What kinds of shows typically excite you as a director?
CC: I enjoy directing productions that offer a challenging puzzle to solve. I feel the same with Shakespeare. It’s as if I can feel the story somewhere over there, but it’s a challenge to try to reach it or just to rise to it.

DCPA: What about A Little Night Music feels challenging as a director?
CC: Everything about A Little Night Music is hard. As a director, the thing that’s interesting is that Sondheim’s music is always very complex and sometimes it feels like he’s challenging you to find the note by giving you everything else that has nothing to do with it.

DCPA: If you were talking about A Little Night Music to a friend over coffee, how would you describe it?
CC: It’s summer in Sweden in 1900 where the sun never sets and everybody’s falling in love with the wrong people. It has gorgeous, sophisticated music and it’s a journey toward authenticity. It’s really about bunch of people who are stuck in their heads who finally find a closer relationship to their authentic selves. The show is quite sexy.

DCPA: How so?
CC: There are a lot of scenes where somebody’s, like, “I want to touch you. I want to lay on the bed with you. I want to…” etc., etc. The tension between the decorum of their world and what their bodies are actually longing for is very present in the piece.

DCPA: You’ve described it before as though it’s got to feel like champagne. It’s fizzy. What do you mean by that?
CC: When you stop to consider that the show he wrote after this was Sweeney Todd, which is dark and sinister, A Little Night Music by contrast has a beautiful waltzy feel to it. It bubbles. The story is like a souffle. It’s a delicious, elegant comedy.

DCPA: What is the show decidedly not?
CC: A Little Night Music is not shmaltzy. It never hands you the emotion on a plate and says, “here’s what you feel.” It may hint at it then pull away, so I think in some ways more affecting because of that.

DCPA: What do we know about the design so far?
CC: Rob Morgan who designed Twelfth Night is the set designer. We both were intrigued by Sweden — Swedish architecture and theatrical architecture in 1900. It’s quite beautiful and intricate with detailed patterns, so the set will be a little bit fancy with embellishments.

There are three beautiful burgundy velour curtains upstage, two of which come on and off to let furniture arrive on a big 28-foot turntable and then one that reveals a beautiful detailed drop upstage that eventually reveals the horizon and sun.There’s a bridge above where we imagine Madame Armfeldt keeping watch over her estate. That gives us a very theatrical frame, which feels probably as much like you’re in a theater as you have seen in the Wolf.

The biggest kind of automation piece or rhythm is the movement of the turntable with a kind of a donut that’s stationary in the middle, which relates to movement of the choreography or the waltz that begins and ends the show.

DCPA: If you could describe the musical in three words, what would they be?

CC: Longing, sensuality, elegance

Join the DCPA Theatre Company for the season opener, A Little Night Music, directed by Artistic Director Chris Coleman.

A Little Night Music
Sep 1- Oct 8 • Wolf Theatre

Music and Lyrics by STEPHEN SONDHEIM
Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick
Suggested by a Film by Ingmar Bergman
Originally Produced and Directed on Broadway by Harold Prince
Directed by Chris Coleman
Choreography by Candy Brown

A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI). All authorized performance materials are also supplied by MTI.