The turntable at center stage in this sumptuously staged musical spin on Ingmar Berg-man's 1956 classic, "Smiles of a Summer Night," is a mechanical hint of the revolving-door romantic liaisons constantly swirling through the play's intricate plot.
Sort of like a carousel, with everyone jumping off to change partners every few minutes.Except the way these couples clash, it's more like darting amongst the dodge-'em cars.
Set during midsummer in Stockholm (and an adjacent country estate) in 1910, Victoria Goro-Rapoport's stylish and slightly surrealistic sets, Sandra Anne Hobbs' elegant costuming and Jaesin Goldsberry's perfectly coiffed hair and wig designs, set this above most student productions on campus. These elements capture the almost-Edwardian grace of the period.
But it's Stephen Sondheim's brilliantly written music and lyrics and Hugh Wheeler's book that weave a fascinating tale of romantic intrigue in a time and place where wives accepted their husbands' dallying with mistresses and amorous entanglements were considered just a part of day-to-day (or night-to-night) life.
Director Dawn McCaugherty and musical director Marina Tichotsky are fortunate to have a large, very talented, ensemble of singers, dancers, actors and musicians, some of whom obviously have trained with the University of Utah's opera coaches.
If you've ever seen the disastrous movie version (with Elizabeth Taylor attempting to sing "Send in the Clowns"), forget that and see what Sondheim and Wheeler really had in mind.
Despite the immoral tone of the piece overall, there are many wonderful theatrical moments to savor - not the least of which are Sondheim's cleverly crafted and sophisticated lyrics.
"How you promised . . . and how I lied," sings the ensemble as it waltzes through "The Glamorous Life."
"You must meet my wife," philandering Fredrik Engerman tells his former mistress, flamboyant actress Desiree Armfeld, "She'd strike you as righteous."
"No, I'd strike her first," Desiree replies.
The mostly student cast is exceptional, with only a couple of weak links.
Holly Anne Brown is stunning in the central role of playful Desiree, with Robert Scott Smith (Fredrik), Daniel Beecher as the quick-tempered Count Malcolm, Jessica Roylance as Anne, Fredrik's wife of 11 months . . . and still a virgin, Saren Nofs-Snyder as vengeful Countess Malcolm and Kristen Kennedy as Fredrika, Desiree's illegitimate daughter, all equally outstanding.
Another real standout is Scott Michael Asti as Henrik, Fredrik's son, who is studying for the ministry, but secretly lusts for his beautiful young stepmother. Asti will soon be leaving Salt Lake to train with one of the country's leading companies, the San Francisco-based American Conservatory Theatre.
Stacey Jenson, who portrayed aging Madame Armfeldt, did a fine job with the acting, but her singing voice was on the weak side.
The chorus of waltzing, singing Liebes-lieders, eight very talented performers - attired in elegant costumes, with sprinkles of glitter in their hair and makeup - added to the surreal fantasy.
The proceedings were accompanied up by a five-piece orchestra at the rear of the stage.
- Sensitivity rating: The adult dialogue, some of it focusing on a variety of sexual conquests, makes this more appropriate for older audiences. There's also some restrained physical sexual activity.