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A classic comedy of manners

Camelot’s “A Little Night Music” is a lushly costumed comedy of manners and a romantic farce that will tickle your fancy and delight your visual and aural senses. The play, directed by Todd Nielsen, opened last week at the Camelot Theatre in Talent.

The class-conscious play of morals and manners was first produced on Broadway in 1973 but is set in a much earlier time. The plot is complicated: an older man marries a beautiful young woman who declines to consummate their marriage, while the man’s son, a chaste seminary student, is tormented by the girl’s teasing ways. Temptation rears its calamitous, catastrophic head, and all parties are eventually satisfied — though not as you might expect.

Anne is the young woman, dressed in virginal white with flounces and petticoats. Alysia Beltran has the role in her Camelot debut, though we’ve seen her before in other Rogue Valley venues. Beltran as Anne is in turn hot-eyed and sultry, a teasing temptress but alternately, she’s childish and anxious, focused on her own beauteous form. Her husband is much older, “aged,” Anne might say, and Alex Boyles is excellently cast in the role of Fredrik Egerman.

Frederik is a lawyer, somewhat stiff and formal, and Boyles’ signature rounded belly is restrained with a white waistcoat and topped with an ascot. As Frederik, Boyles is comically confused and totally frustrated after 11 months of no you-know-what.

Henrik, Frederik’s son, is naive and, like his father, frustrated and confused at the world’s temptations.

Austin Robert Miller has the role and plays that churchy collar to the hilt until he’s ready to tear it off and let down his drawers.

The three are hilarious in “Now” (Boyles as Frederik wants sex now!), “Later” (Beltran as Anne puts off her husband), and Miller as Henrik joins the other two in “Soon,” as they each promise themselves that fulfillment is near.

“A Little Night Music” is about class, those working women so ready to play and so unlike Countess Charlotte Malcom played by fabulous Mia Gaskin. Gaskin is tight-lipped, gossipy, oh so proper and oh so funny in the role as she tries to seduce Frederik and bring her husband’s favors home again. Gaskin renders “My Husband the Pig” with a strength and disdain that is electrifying countering Carl-Magnus’ “In Praise of Women,” empty of love or regard for his wife.

Perhaps the standout of the evening is Rose Passione as Desiree Armfelt, an actress and singer, the mistress of many men it seems, and an independent woman confident of her seductive beauty. Passione’s vocal talents shine as her character banters back a very different reality than Frederik imagines in “You Must Meet My Wife.” Passione and Boyles join literally and figuratively in what may be Sondheim’s best known score of “A Little Night Music,” “Send in the Clowns.”

Class also comes into the play as Petra, played by Kristen Calvin, bares her legs and opens her heart at will. Petra is down to earth, not vulgar exactly, but ready for action and likes it very much, thank you kindly.

Calvin’s brash style plays well in this role, and in contrast to the upper-class women who restrain their favors and sell their souls. Calvin’s generous performance is marvelously warm hearted and entertaining.

Mozart’s 1787 composition, “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” is a classically beautiful work and the music of its four movements are familiar and well loved. The formal yet lively strings are the overture that opens “A Little Night Music” with an early 19th century formal waltz, the paired couples coming together and separating smoothly in one of the most romantic and seductive dances of the day. Their every step and slide is precise; their posture immaculate, and their eyes are intent on each other as gloved hands touch lightly, teasing a closer liaison.

Camelot’s six-piece chamber music ensemble is seated on stage for this performance, and it’s wonderful to see the musicians so close at hand, participating in the production. Directed by Jen Marie, the ensemble has four strings: Steve Fain, Lillian Koppelman, Beth Martin and Maxim Worthylake; two woodwinds: Lorin Groshong and Pam Hammond Morris; and Scott Soltermann on keys.

The set and costumes of “A Little Night Music” are outstanding. The stage is readily transformed with sliding panels that quickly change scenes, hide lovers and conceal the entrances and exits of the cast. The panels also serve as projection screens which are brilliantly done.

Lighting was dim at times, perhaps intentional because much of the play was set outdoors under the moon, where the sky smiled over the young, the foolish and the old.

Costumes, especially those of the women, are extravagant, and frequent changes of dress bring home the panoply of panniers, corsets and petticoats so characteristic of the Edwardian era. Props to Madison Queen and Adam Kilgore.

“A Little Night Music” continues at Camelot Theatre through March 22. Tickets are available from the box office, 1010 Talent Ave., by calling 541-535-5250, or online at www.camelottheatre.org.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.