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15 April 1975: Sondheim plays A Little Night Music

First Published 23 April 2008, Last Updated 25 September 2008

Stephen Sondheim’s new musical A Little Night Music had already been a Tony Award-winning success on Broadway in 1973 when Harold Prince recreated his production in London two years later. It opened at the Adelphi theatre on 15 April 1975.

Based on Ingmar Bergman’s film Smiles Of A Summer Night, Sondheim’s romantic musical about mismatched love centres on middle aged lawyer Frederik, his much younger wife Anne and his ex-lover, actress Desiree. While Desiree is having an affair with Count Carl-Magnus, who in turn is married to Charlotte, Frederik’s son Henrik is in love with Anne, his stepmother. Sondheim’s score includes the songs The Glamorous Life, Liaisons and Send In The Clowns. The book is by Hugh Wheeler.

Hermione Gingold, who created the role of Madame Armfeldt on Broadway, brought her performance over the pond for the 1975 British premiere production, in which she was joined by Jean Simmons as Desiree, Joss Ackland, David Kernan, Liz Robertson and Diane Langton.
 
Following the London premier production and a 1978 film version starring Elizabeth Taylor, A Little Night Music has been revived twice in London; first in 1989 at the Piccadilly, starring Lila Kedrova, Dorothy Tutin, Peter McEnery and Susan Hampshire, and then in  1995 at the National Theatre. Sean Mathias’s production starred Sian Phillips, Joanna Riding, Laurence Guittard and Patricia Hodge, along with the versatile Judi Dench as Desiree. In the 1996 Laurence Olivier Award ceremony Dench demonstrated her considerable talents by not only winning Best Actress in a Musical for her performance in A Little Night Music but also claiming the Best Actress prize for another National Theatre production, Absolute Hell.

New York-born Sondheim is acknowledged as one of musical theatre’s most important and influential composers of all time with a multitude of Tony and Laurence Olivier Award wins and nominations to his name. As a composer and lyricist his credits before A Little Night Music include A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Anyone Can Whistle, Company and Follies. After 1973 he went on to write The Frogs, Pacific Overtures, the anthology Side By Side By Sondheim, Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday In The Park With George (for which he received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1984), Into The Woods, Assassins, Passion and Bounce. He also wrote the lyrics for West Side Story, Gypsy and Do I Hear A Waltz? and has written music for film and television, winning a Best Song Academy Award in 1999 for Sooner Or Later from the film Dick Tracy.

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