Stephen Gage (Musical Director) and Gareth Mattey (Director) in a rehearsalJohannes Hjorth

Why did you choose to apply to put on A Little Night Music?

A Little Night Music has long been one of my favourite musicals and as a director I’m a huge fan of working with Sondheim’s musicals. I had thought about aiming to direct one more before I graduate (having directed Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Sunday in the Park with George previously) and A Little Night Music seemed like the perfect choice with its tragicomic mix of romance, farce, nostalgia and conflict that all comes to a head during a summer weekend in the country. Having focused on directing opera for the past year or so, I was very excited about trying to direct one of my favourite musicals as well!

What was the process of applying like?

I’ve been in Cambridge for the past four years and have gone through my fair share of applications; what is brilliant is how streamlined the process is and how rigorously efficient everything is from the ADC. I had a full plan ready to discuss (for musicals, you have a five-minute pitch followed by a lengthier fifteen-minute interview) and even though I’ve directed a lot of musical theatre, it still can be quite a nerve-wracking process!

Why did you think the ADC accepted the proposal for a third Sondheim musical this year?

One of the great things about Sondheim is the variety he displays and the three works that have been performed at the ADC – two with Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society (CUMTS) support – really demonstrate this variety. West Side Story is early Sondheim, where we can see the developing genius and wit of his lyrics alongside Bernstein’s music. Sweeney Todd, one of his most famous, is a dark and powerful tragedy that verges on the operatic. A Little Night Music is perhaps his most subtle, his most naturalistic, his most intricately plotted and one where we see that genius with lyrics at full expression – in the brilliantly dense songs ‘Now, Later, Soon’ and ‘Weekend in the Country’ in particular.

What is it about Sondheim that you find so brilliant?

For me, it is his skill as a lyricist to draw character, develop plot, employ wit, wordplay and wonder all at the same time that makes Sondheim truly brilliant. The way he uses the music and lyrics together to develop and advance the plot and character is even more astounding. In ‘Now, Later, Soon’ in A Little Night Music, for example, each member of the Egerman family has a very personal song expressing their fears, their worries or their desires which Sondheim brings together at the climax. The overlapping of these three songs into one, ending with Fredrik singing not Anne’s name, but Desiree’s (his former love) brilliantly develops the musical’s plot, characters and relationships in one go.

How do Sondheim musicals pose a challenge for the cast and crews involved?

The music is usually more complex with Sondheim than with other musicals (every song in A Little Night Music is composed as a variation on waltz time for example), the characterisation more in depth and the demand for theatrical innovation very high. We are very lucky to have both an incredibly talented cast, all very capable at handling both the touching intimacy and moments of farce the musical requires, and a fantastic team supporting us for this production. Stephen Gage, our wonderfully talented Musical Director, and our brilliant set designer Jack Parham (who has created and designed a very exciting and very mobile space in which to set the musical) have especially helped in bringing this challenging piece to the ADC stage.

Is your production of A Little Night Music typical Sondheim or are you changing it up a bit?

We’re aiming to change things up a bit and play with taking a more contemporary approach to a broadly period piece. The timelessness of the musical (in how it treats love, theatre, class, affairs) allows it to remain relevant beyond its era and even to today’s UK. We did experiment with the idea of whether and how the musical could be directly set in today’s England but have chosen to maintain the original Swedish setting. Alongside this recognisable and colourful contemporary world, the Quintet – the musical’s chorus – watch as if ghosts from the past. They control the scenery and they wait and watch as if they have seen everything before and, above all, they quite enjoy watching it all. Beyond this, we’ve really tried to get to the heart of what is great about the musical – its mix of touching intimacy and farcical comedy.

Which of Sondheim’s lyrics/songs/musicals is your favourite and why?

I think it is impossible to decide on a single one of his musicals as my favourite (it is definitely between Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music and Sunday in the Park with George) but one of my favourite songs from all of his work is ‘Weekend in the Country’ from this musical. It is without a doubt the most ‘Sondheim’ Sondheim song there is – if you want to know what I mean by that then don’t miss out on A Little Night Music this week!

A Little Night Music runs from Tuesday 10th to Saturday 14th May 2016, at 7.45pm, at the ADC Theatre.