STOCKBRIDGE -- When Berkshire Theatre Group CEO and artistic director Kate Maguire asked Stockbridge born and raised soprano Maureen O’Flynn over a lunch last fall what she might want to do this summer at BTG, the answer was a no-brainer -- Stephen Sondheim’s "A Little Night Music."
"I was looking for something faintly age appropriate," O’Flynn said with a laugh during a recent interview outside a rehearsal studio at BTG’s Lavan campus, where she was joined by co-stars Gregg Edelman and Kate Baldwin.
"I wanted something in theater, which actually is my training, rather than opera. I also liked that the role (Desirée Armfeldt, an actress in turn-of-the-century Sweden) involves mostly my acting chops." Indeed. Desirée has only two songs in "A Little Night Music," one of which is the iconic "Send in the Clowns."
Inspired by a 1955 movie by Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, "A Little Night Music" centers on the reawakened love between Desirée and her former lover, a lawyer named Fredrik Egerman (played by Edelman), with whom she had a daughter, who is being raised by her mother, a formerly glamorous, worldly courtesan, Madame Armfeldt (Penny Fuller). When Desirée’s tour brings her to a neighboring town, Fredrik -- who has yet to consummate his new marriage to an apprehensive 18-year-old virgin -- decides to attend a performance and pay Desirée a surprise visit backstage afterward.
"There is such sophistication in the way Sondheim (and book writer Hugh Wheeler) have put this together," O’Flynn said. "This is text-and-drama-driven. It’s not fluff."
"There is so much going on in each song. Sondheim writes about things other people don’t," said Broadway stage veteran Baldwin, who plays a countess whose chronically adulterous husband, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (played by Baldwin’s real-life husband, Graham Rowat), is having an affair with Desirée.
"There is such sophistication in his music," said Edelman, who is playing Fredrik. "A great deal of the American musical canon you have to do something with. With Sondheim, all you need [to do] is keep up with his road map."
"It’s all there for you," said O’Flynn. "It’s so meaty."
Director Ethan Heard, who is one year out of Yale School of Drama and who directed "The Cat and the Canary" at BTG’s Unicorn Theatre last summer, jumped at the chance to work on "A Little Night Music" when Maguire offered him the project.
Heard is going back to Bergman’s film, "Smiles of a Sumer Night," to inject "A Little Night Music" with some "libido," Heard said in a separate interview.
"I’ve seen a number of productions of ‘Night Music’ and it seems to me there’s been a kind of formal operetta aura around it. But if you look at what’s going on here, you feel the physical undercurrent of sex, of love.
"There is juvenile love, mature love, even sado-masochistic love," Heard said.
What makes the musical work so well, Heard says, is the synthesis between Sondheim’s music and lyrics on the one hand and Wheeler’s book on the other.
"It is so clean and tight," Heard said. "(Wheeler) gives every character in the show a moment."
Heard says that for him the musical’s climax over a weekend at Madame Armfeldt’s country estate brings to mind "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" in its chaos among mismatched lovers and the order that comes out of that chaos.
"For me," Heard said, "this is about tne journey to true love, honest love; finding one’s true connection."