A Little Night Music
Original Broadway windowcard
MusicStephen Sondheim
LyricsStephen Sondheim
BookHugh Wheeler
BasisSmiles of a Summer Night
by Ingmar Bergman
Productions1973 Broadway
1975 West End
1977 Film
1989 West End revival
1990 New York City Opera
1995 Royal National Theatre
2000 Barcelona
2002 Kennedy Center
2003 NYCO revival
2008 London revival
2009 Broadway revival
2024 Lincoln Center
International productions
AwardsTony Award for Best Musical
Tony Award for Best Book
Tony Award for Best Original Score

A Little Night Music is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler. Inspired by the 1955 Ingmar Bergman film Smiles of a Summer Night, it involves the romantic lives of several couples. Its title is a literal English translation of the German name for Mozart's Serenade No. 13, K. 525, Eine kleine Nachtmusik. The musical includes the popular song "Send In the Clowns", written for Glynis Johns.

Since its original 1973 Broadway production, the musical has enjoyed professional productions in the West End, by opera companies, in a 2009 Broadway revival, and elsewhere, and it is a popular choice for regional groups. It was adapted for film in 1977, with Harold Prince directing and Elizabeth Taylor, Len Cariou, Lesley-Anne Down, and Diana Rigg starring.


Act One

The setting is Sweden, around the year 1900. One by one, the Quintet – five singers who comment like a Greek chorus throughout the show – enter, tuning up. Gradually, their vocalizing becomes an overture blending fragments of "Remember," "Soon," and "The Glamorous Life." The other characters enter waltzing, each uncomfortable with their partner ("Night Waltz"). After they drift back off, the aging and sardonic Madame Armfeldt, a wealthy former courtesan, and her solemn granddaughter, Fredrika, enter. Madame Armfeldt tells the child that the summer night "smiles" three times: first on the young, second on fools, and third on the old. Fredrika vows to watch the smiles occur. Middle-aged, successful lawyer Fredrik Egerman has recently married an 18-year-old trophy wife, Anne, a naive girl who loves Fredrik but isn't attracted to him. The two have been married for eleven months, and Anne still protects her virginity. Upon coming home from work, Fredrik surprises Anne with tickets to a play, starring Desiree Armfeldt, a glamorous actress whom Anne greatly admires. Anne giddily fantasizes about what it would be like to be as beautiful and beloved as Desiree, and starts talking at Fredrik about her day. Fredrik, distracted by his lust, considers various ways he might seduce his wife but ultimately rules each one out and elects to take a nap instead ("Now"). Meanwhile, his son Henrik, a seminary student a year older than his stepmother, is frustrated and ignored ("Later"). Anne promises her husband that shortly she will consent to have sex even though she can't help recoiling at his touch ("Soon"), and all three of them lament at once. The number concludes with Fredrik sighing Desiree's name in his sleep, which Anne overhears. Anne's maidservant Petra, an experienced and forthright girl, slightly older than the teen herself, offers her worldly but crass advice.

Desiree Armfeldt, although once prominent, is now a fading flower clinging onto what's left of her past fame. Desiree tours in small, obscure towns with her theatre troupe. Madam Armfeldt, Desiree's mother, has taken over the care of Desiree's daughter Fredrika. Fredrika misses her mother, but Desiree continually delays seeing her, preferring, somewhat ironically, her life on tour ("The Glamorous Life"). As Fredrik and Anne take their seats at Desiree's play, Anne's previous excitement quickly devolves into anxiety, suspicious that Fredrik and Desiree have a romantic history that he never disclosed to her. The play begins and Desiree immediately notices Fredrik in the audience, and the Quintet reveals their shared memories and passionate relationship ("Remember"). Desiree, ironically playing a sexually irresistible countess, exchanges amorous glances with Fredrik and delivers her lines in an overtly suggestive tone, confirming Anne's suspicions as true. Anne, upset and overwhelmed, demands that Fredrik take her home. Meanwhile, Petra tries to seduce a nervous and petulant Henrik.

That night, as Fredrik remembers his past with Desiree, he sneaks out to see her. The two have a happy but strained reunion, reflecting on their new lives. Desiree sarcastically boasts of her own adultery, as she has been seeing the married dragoon, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm. Following, Fredrik tries to explain how much he loves Anne, fending off Desiree's interjecting quips, but he ultimately reveals his sexual frustration ("You Must Meet My Wife"). Upon learning that Fredrik has gone for eleven months without sex, she agrees to accommodate him as a favor for an old friend.

Madam Armfeldt offers advice to young Fredrika. The elderly woman reflects poignantly on her own checkered past and wonders what happened to prior refined styles of living ("Liaisons"). In Desiree's apartment, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm proclaims his unannounced arrival in his usual booming tones. Fredrik and Desiree fool the Count with an innocent explanation for their disheveled appearance, but he is still suspicious. He boasts of his many duels and the various wounds he has suffered before demonstrating his skills in knife-throwing. Fredrik responds sarcastically, causing the dragoon to dislike him immediately. Carl-Magnus returns to his wife, Countess Charlotte. Charlotte knows of her husband's infidelity, but Carl-Magnus is too absorbed in his suspicions of Desiree to talk to her ("In Praise of Women"). When she persuades him to blurt out the whole story, a twist is revealed—Charlotte's little sister is a schoolfriend of Anne's.

Charlotte visits Anne and describes Fredrik's tryst with Desiree. Anne is shocked and saddened, but Charlotte explains that such is the lot of a wife, and love brings pain ("Every Day a Little Death"). Meanwhile, Desiree asks Madam Armfeldt to host a party for Fredrik, Anne, and Henrik. Madam Armfeldt reluctantly agrees and sends out a personal invitation; its receipt sends Anne into a frenzy, imagining Desiree further seducing Fredrik at the estate. Anne does not want to accept the invitation, but Charlotte convinces her to do so to heighten the contrast between the older Desiree and the young and beautiful teenager. Charlotte relates this to the Count, who (much to her chagrin) decides to visit the Armfeldts, uninvited, as well. Carl-Magnus plans to challenge Fredrik to a duel, while Charlotte hopes to seduce the lawyer to make her husband jealous and end his philandering. The act ends as all characters head to Madam Armfeldt's estate ("A Weekend in the Country").

Act Two

Madam Armfeldt's country estate is bathed in the golden glow of perpetual summer sunset at this high latitude ("Night Waltz One and Two"). Everyone arrives, each with their own amorous purposes and desires—even Petra, who catches the eye of Armfeldt's fetching manservant, Frid. The women begin to quarrel with one another. Fredrik is astonished to learn the name of Desiree's daughter. Henrik meets Fredrika, and confesses to her he deeply loves Anne. Meanwhile, in the garden, Fredrik and Carl-Magnus reflect on the difficulty of being annoyed with Desiree, contrasting her immoral actions with her physical beauty ("It Would Have Been Wonderful"). Dinner is served, and the female Quintet singers comment on the characters’ suspense regarding the coming meal ("Perpetual Anticipation").

At dinner, Charlotte attempts to flirt with Fredrik and trades insults with Desiree. Soon, everyone is shouting and scolding everyone else, except for Henrik, who finally speaks up. He accuses the whole company of being amoral, and flees the scene. Stunned, everyone reflects on the situation and wanders away. Fredrika tells Anne of Henrik's secret love and the two dash off searching for him. Meanwhile, Desiree meets Fredrik and asks if he still wants to be "rescued" from his life. Fredrik answers honestly that he loves Desiree but cannot bring himself to hurt Anne. Hurt and bitter, Desiree can only reflect on the nature of her life and relationship with Fredrik ("Send In the Clowns"). Anne finds Henrik, who is attempting to commit suicide. The clumsy boy cannot complete the task, and Anne tells him she loves him, too. The pair begins to kiss, which leads to Anne's first sexual encounter. Meanwhile, not far away, Frid sleeps in Petra's lap. The maid imagines advantageous marriages but concludes that in the meantime, "a girl ought to celebrate what passes by" ("The Miller's Son"). Charlotte confesses her plan to Fredrik, and both watch Henrik and Anne, happy together, run away to start their new life. The two commiserate on a bench. Carl-Magnus, preparing to sleep with Desiree, sees this and challenges Fredrik to Russian Roulette; Fredrik nervously misfires and simply grazes his own ear. Feeling victorious, Carl-Magnus reaffirms his love for Charlotte, finally granting her wish.

After the Count and Countess leave, Fredrika and Madam Armfeldt discuss the recent chaotic turns of events. The elderly woman asks Fredrika a surprising question: "What is it all for?" Fredrika thinks about this and decides that love, for all of its frustrations, "must be worth it." Madam Armfeldt is surprised, ruefully noting that she rejected love for material wealth at Fredrika's age. She praises her granddaughter and remembers true love's fleeting nature.

Fredrik finally confesses his love for Desiree, acknowledging that Fredrika is his daughter, and the two promise to start a new life together ("Send in the Clowns" (Reprise)). Madam Armfeldt sits alone with Fredrika, who tells her grandmother that she has watched carefully but still has not seen the night smile. Madam Armfeldt laughs and points out that the night has indeed smiled twice: first on Henrik and Anne, the young, and second on Desiree and Fredrik, the fools. As the two wait for the "third smile... on the old", it occurs: Madam Armfeldt closes her eyes and dies peacefully with Fredrika beside her ("Last Waltz").

Musical numbers

Additional musical numbers




Casts and characters

Character Broadway US National Tour West End First West End Revival[4] Off-West End Revival[5] Second West End Revival[6] First Broadway Revival Lincoln Center Concert
1973 1974 1975 1989 2008 2009 2024
Desiree Armfeldt Glynis Johns Jean Simmons Dorothy Tutin Hannah Waddingham Catherine Zeta-Jones Susan Graham
Fredrik Egerman Len Cariou George Lee Andrews Joss Ackland Peter McEnery Alexander Hanson Ron Raines
Madame Armfeldt Hermione Gingold Margaret Hamilton Hermione Gingold Lila Kedrova Maureen Lipman Angela Lansbury Marsha Mason
Fredrika Armfeldt Judy Kahan Marti Morris Christine McKenna-Tirella Debra Beaumont Holly Hallam
Grace Link
Katherine Leigh Doherty
Keaton Whittaker
Addie Harrington
Petra D'Jamin Bartlett Mary Ann Chinn Diane Langton Sara Weymouth Kaisa Hammarlund Leigh Ann Larkin Cynthia Erivo
Henrik Egerman Mark Lambert Stephen Lehew Terry Mitchell Alexander Hanson Gabriel Vick Hunter Ryan Herdlicka Jason Gotay
Anne Egerman Victoria Mallory Virgina Pulos Veronica Page Deborah Poplett Jessie Buckley Ramona Mallory Kerstin Anderson
Countess Charlotte Malcolm Patricia Elliott Andra Akers Maria Aitken Susan Hampshire Kelly Price Erin Davie Ruthie Ann Miles
Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm Laurence Guittard Ed Evanko David Kernan Eric Flynn Alistair Robins Aaron Lazar Shuler Hensley

Notable replacements

Broadway (1973–74)
West End (1975)
Broadway Revival (2009–11)


Original Broadway production

Subsequent to its January 23-February 10 tryout engagement at the Colonial Theatre (Boston),[7]A Little Night Music opened on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre on February 25, 1973. It played there until September 15, 1973, then moved to the Majestic Theatre, on September 17, and closed there on August 3, 1974, after 601 performances and 12 previews. It was directed by Harold Prince with choreography by Patricia Birch and design by Boris Aronson. The cast included Glynis Johns (Desiree Armfeldt), Len Cariou (Fredrik Egerman), Hermione Gingold (Madame Armfeldt), Victoria Mallory (Anne Egerman), Judith Kahan (Fredrika Armfeldt), Mark Lambert (Henrik Egerman), Laurence Guittard (Carl-Magnus Malcolm), Patricia Elliott (Charlotte Malcolm), George Lee Andrews (Frid), and D'Jamin Bartlett (Petra). It won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award and the Tony Award for Best Musical.

Australian premiere

The first international production opened at Her Majesty's Theatre in Sydney, Australia in November 1973, with a cast including Taina Elg, Bruce Barry, Jill Perryman, Doris Fitton, Anna Russell and Geraldine Turner.[8] Australian revivals have been presented by the Sydney Theatre Company (featuring Geraldine Turner and a young Toni Collette) in 1990, Melbourne Theatre Company (featuring Helen Morse and John O'May) in 1997, Opera Australia (featuring Sigrid Thornton and Anthony Warlow) in 2009, and Victorian Opera (featuring Ali McGregor, Simon Gleeson and Verity Hunt-Ballard) in 2019.[9][10][11][12]

United States tour

A US national tour began on February 26, 1974, at the Forrest Theatre, Philadelphia, and ended on February 13, 1975, at the Shubert Theatre, Boston. Jean Simmons as Desiree Armfeldt, George Lee Andrews as Fredrik Egerman and Margaret Hamilton as Madame Armfeldt headed the cast.[13]

West End premiere

The musical premiered in the West End at the Adelphi Theatre on April 15, 1975, and starred Jean Simmons, Joss Ackland, David Kernan, Liz Robertson, and Diane Langton, with Hermione Gingold reprising her role as Madame Armfeldt. It ran for 406 performances. During the run, Angela Baddeley replaced Gingold, and Virginia McKenna replaced Simmons.

1989 West End revival

A revival opened in the West End on October 6, 1989, at the Piccadilly Theatre, directed by Ian Judge, designed by Mark Thompson, and choreographed by Anthony Van Laast. It starred Lila Kedrova as Madame Armfeldt, Dorothy Tutin as Desiree Armfeldt, Peter McEnery as Fredrik, and Susan Hampshire. The production ran for 144 performances, closing on February 17, 1990.

1995 London revival

A revival by the Royal National Theatre opened at the Olivier Theatre on September 26, 1995. It was directed by Sean Mathias, with set design by Stephen Brimson Lewis, costumes by Nicky Gillibrand, lighting by Mark Henderson and choreography by Wayne McGregor. It starred Judi Dench (Desiree), Siân Phillips (Madame Armfeldt), Joanna Riding (Anne Egerman), Laurence Guittard (Fredrik Egerman), Patricia Hodge (Countess Charlotte) and Issy van Randwyck (Petra). The production closed on August 31, 1996. Dench received the Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical.[14]

2008 London revival

The third London revival ran at the Menier Chocolate Factory from November 22, 2008, until March 8, 2009. The production was directed by Trevor Nunn, with musical supervision by Caroline Humphris, choreography by Lynne Page, sets and costumes by David Farley and new orchestrations by Jason Carr. The cast included Hannah Waddingham as Desiree, Alexander Hanson as Frederik, Jessie Buckley (Anne), Maureen Lipman (Madame Armfeldt), Alistair Robins (the Count), Gabriel Vick (Henrik), Grace Link (Fredrika) and Kasia Hammarlund (Petra).[15] This critically acclaimed[16][17][18] production transferred to the Garrick Theatre in the West End for a limited season, opening on March 28, 2009, and running until July 25, 2009.[19] The production then transferred to Broadway with a new cast.

2009 Broadway revival

The 2008 Menier Chocolate Factory production opened on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre in previews on November 24, 2009, and officially on December 13, 2009, with the same creative team. The cast was led by Angela Lansbury as Madame Armfeldt and, in her Broadway debut, Catherine Zeta-Jones as Desiree. Also featured were Alexander Hanson as Frederik,[20] Ramona Mallory (the daughter of original Broadway cast members Victoria Mallory and Mark Lambert) as Anne, Hunter Ryan Herdlicka as Henrik, Leigh Ann Larkin as Petra, Erin Davie as the Countess, Aaron Lazar as the Count, and Bradley Dean as Frid. Zeta-Jones received the award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical at the 64th Tony Awards.[21]

Originally, Katherine Doherty and Keaton Whittaker played Fredrika in alternating performances, beginning with the November 2009 previews.[22][23] The official show album, which was recorded in January 2010, features both Doherty and Whittaker as Fredrika (on different songs).[24] However, Katherine McNamara replaced Doherty in February 2010.[25] McNamara and Whittaker stayed with the production until it ended in January 2011.[26]

When the contracts of Zeta-Jones and Lansbury ended, the production closed temporarily on June 20, 2010, and resumed on July 13, with new stars Bernadette Peters as Desiree Armfeldt and Elaine Stritch as Madame Armfeldt.[27][28] In an interview, Peters said that Sondheim had "proposed the idea to her this spring and urged the producers of the revival to cast her."[29] Trevor Nunn directed rehearsals with the two new stars, and the rest of the original cast remained.[30][31] Peters and Stritch extended their contracts until January 9, 2011, when the production closed with 20 previews and 425 regular performances.[32] Before the production closed, it recouped its initial investment.[33]


Zarah Leander played Madame Armfeldt in the original Austrian staging (in 1975) as well as in the original Swedish staging in Stockholm in 1978 (here with Jan Malmsjö as Fredrik Egerman). The successful Stockholm staging was directed by Stig Olin. In 2010 the musical was scheduled to return to Stockholm and the Stockholm Stadsteater. The cast included Pia Johansson, Dan Ekborg, Yvonne Lombard and Thérese Andersson.[citation needed]

The Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris production ran from February 15, 2010, through February 20, 2010. Lee Blakeley directed and Andrew George was the choreographer.[34] Italian-born actress Greta Scacchi played Désirée, and Leslie Caron played Madame Armfeldt.[35]

The Turku City Theatre staged the musical in 2011 with Kirsi Tarvainen [fi] in the role as Désirée. Tuomas Parkkinen [fi] directed and Jussi Vahvaselkä was musical director.

In 2019, the Nederlands Reisopera staged a version directed by Zack Winokur, with Susan Rigvava-Dumas playing Désirée.

Opera companies and concerts

The musical has also become part of the repertoire of a few opera companies. Michigan Opera Theatre was the first major American opera company to present the work in 1983, and again in November 2009. Light Opera Works (Evanston, Illinois) produced the work in August 1983. New York City Opera staged it in 1990, 1991 and 2003, the Houston Grand Opera in 1999, the Los Angeles Opera in 2004, and Hartford Opera Theater in 2014. New York City Opera's production in August 1990 and July 1991 (a total of 18 performances) won the 1990 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival and was telecast on the PBS show Live at Lincoln Center on November 7, 1990.[36] The cast included both stage performers: Sally Ann Howes and George Lee Andrews as Desiree and Frederik and opera regular Regina Resnik as Madame Armfeldt (in 1991).[37] The 2003 production featured a young Anna Kendrick as Fredrika Armfeldt, alongside Jeremy Irons as Frederik, Juliet Stevenson as Desiree, Claire Bloom as Madame Armfeldt, Danny Gurwin as Henrik, Michele Pawk as Charlotte, Jessiva Boevers as Petra, Kristin Huxhold as Anne and Marc Kudisch as Carl-Magnus.[38] The 2003 production was revived at Los Angeles Opera in July 2004. Kudish, Pawk, Gurwin and Boevers returned alongside Judith Ivey as Desiree, Zoe Caldwell as Madame Armfeldt, Victor Garber as Frederik, Laura Benanti as Anne and Kristen Bell as Fredrika.[39]

Opera Australia presented the piece in Melbourne in May 2009, starring Sigrid Thornton as Desiree Armfeldt and Nancye Hayes as Madame Armfeldt. The production returned in 2010 at the Sydney Opera House with Anthony Warlow taking on the role of Fredrik Egerman. The production was directed by Stuart Maunder, designed by Roger Kirk, and conducted by Andrew Greene.[40] Opera Theatre of Saint Louis performed the musical in June 2010. Designer Isaac Mizrahi directed and designed the production, with a cast that included Amy Irving, Siân Phillips, and Ron Raines as Fredrik Egerman.[41]

The piece has also become a popular choice for amateur musical theatre and light opera companies. In 2017, the musical was performed by students at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.[42]

In June 2024, there is set to be a concert at David Geffen Hall in Lincoln Center. The production is set to star Susan Graham (Desiree Armfeldt), Cynthia Erivo (Petra), Ron Raines (Fredrik Egerman), Kerstin Anderson (Anne Egerman), Jonathan Christopher (Mr. Erlanson), Jason Gotay (Henrik Egerman), Ellie Fishman (Mrs. Nordstrom), Jin Ha (Frid), Addie Harrington (Fredrika Armfeldt), Shuler Hensley (Count Carl Magnus), Samantha Hill (Mrs. Segstrom), Andrea Jones-Sojola (Mrs. Anderson), Ross Lekites (Mr. Lindquist), Marsha Mason (Madam Armfeldt), and Ruthie Ann Miles (Countess Charlotte). The concert is set to be produced by Jeff Berger, in association with Doug and Stacey Meyer, David and Ryan Belenzon, and Michael Lamon. [43]

Film adaptation

Main article: A Little Night Music (film)

A film version of A Little Night Music was released in 1977. Cariou, Gingold, and Guittard reprise their broadway roles alongside Elizabeth Taylor as Desiree, Lesley-Anne Down as Anne and Diana Rigg as Charlotte. The setting for the film was moved from Sweden to Austria. Sondheim wrote lyrics for the "Night Waltz" theme ("Love Takes Time") and wrote an entirely new version of "The Glamorous Life", which has been incorporated into several subsequent productions of the stage musical. However, other songs, including "In Praise of Women", "The Miller's Son" and "Liaisons", were cut and remain heard only as background orchestrations. The film marked Prince's second (and final) time as a motion picture director. Critical reaction to the film was mostly negative, with much being made of Taylor's wildly fluctuating weight from scene to scene.[44] Some critics talked more positively of the film, with Variety calling it "an elegant looking, period romantic charade".[45] There was praise for Diana Rigg's performance, and orchestrator Jonathan Tunick received an Oscar for his work on the score. A soundtrack recording was released on LP, and a DVD release was issued in June 2007.[46]

Music analysis

The score for A Little Night Music presents performance challenges more often seen in operetta or light opera pieces than in standard musical comedy. The demands made on the singing cast are considerable; although the vocal demands of the role of Desiree are rather small, most of the other singing roles require strong, legitimately-trained voices with fairly wide ranges. Sondheim's liberal use of counterpoint extends to the vocal parts, including a free-structured round (the trio "Perpetual Anticipation") as well as songs in which characters engage in interior monologues or even overt dialogue simultaneously ("Now/Later/Soon", "A Weekend in the Country"). Critic Rex Reed noted that "The score of 'Night Music' ...contains patter songs, contrapuntal duets and trios, a quartet, and even a dramatic double quintet to puzzle through. All this has been gorgeously orchestrated by Jonathan Tunick; there is no rhythm section, only strings and woodwinds to carry the melodies and harmonies aloft."[47]

Sondheim's engagement with threes extends to his lyrics. He organizes trios with the singers separated, while his duets are sung together, about a third person.[48]

The work is performed as an operetta in many professional opera companies. For example, it was added to the New York City Opera Company repertoire in 1990.[49]


Most of the music in the show is written in waltz meter (3
). Some parts adopt compound meter, with a time signature such as 12
.[48] Passages in "Overture", "Glamorous Life", "Liaisons", "Every Day A Little Death", and "The Miller's Son" are in duple meter.[50]

Counterpoint and polyphony

At several points, Sondheim has multiple performers each sing a different song simultaneously. This use of counterpoint maintains coherence even as it extends the notion of a round, familiar in songs such as the traditional "Frère Jacques", into something more complex. Sondheim said: "As for the three songs ... going together well, I might as well confess. In those days I was just getting into contrapuntal and choral writing...and I wanted to develop my technique by writing a trio. What I didn't want to do is the quodlibet method...wouldn't it be nice to have three songs you don't think are going to go together, and they do go together ... The trick was the little vamp on "Soon" which has five-and six-note chords."[51] Steve Swayne comments that the "contrapuntal episodes in the extended ensembles ... stand as testament to his interest in Counterpoint."[51]

"Send In The Clowns"

The show's best-known and Sondheim's biggest hit song was almost an afterthought, written several days before the start of out-of-town tryouts.[52] Sondheim initially conceived Desiree as a role for a more or less non-singing actress. When he discovered that the original Desiree, Glynis Johns, was able to sing (she had a "small, silvery voice")[53] but could not "sustain a phrase", he devised the song "Send in the Clowns" for her in a way that would work around her vocal weakness, e.g., by ending lines with consonants that made for a short cut-off.[53] "It is written in short phrases in order to be acted rather than sung ... tailor-made for Glynis Johns, who lacks the vocal power to sustain long phrases."[54]

In analyzing the text of the song, Max Cryer wrote that it "is not intended to be sung by the young in love, but by a mature performer who has seen it all before. The song remains an anthem to regret for unwise decisions in the past and recognition that there's no need to send in the clowns – they're already here."[55]

Graham Wolfe has argued, "What Desirée is referring to in the famous song is a conventional device to cover over a moment when something has gone wrong on stage. Midway through the second Act she has deviated from her usual script by suggesting to Fredrik the possibility of being together seriously and permanently, and, having been rejected, she falters as a show-person, finds herself bereft of the capacity to improvise and wittily cover. If Desirée could perform at this moment – revert to the innuendos, one-liners and blithe self-referential humour that constitutes her normal character – all would be well. She cannot, and what follows is an exemplary manifestation of Sondheim’s musico-dramatic complexity, his inclination to write music that performs drama. That is, what needs to be covered over (by the clowns sung about in the song) is the very intensity, ragged emotion and utter vulnerability that comes forward through the music and singing itself, a display protracted to six minutes, wrought with exposed silences, a shocked Fredrik sitting so uncomfortably before Desirée while something much too real emerges in a realm where he – and his audience – felt assured of performance."[56]


There is a Mozart reference in the title—A Little Night Music is an occasionally-used translation of Eine kleine Nachtmusik, the nickname of Mozart's Serenade No. 13, K. 525. The elegant, harmonically-advanced music in this musical pays indirect homage to the compositions of Maurice Ravel, especially his Valses nobles et sentimentales[57] (whose opening chord is borrowed for the opening chord of the song "Liaisons"); part of this effect stems from the style of orchestration that Jonathan Tunick used. There is also a direct quotation in 'A Weekend in the Country' (just as it moves to A major for the last time in the final section of the number) of Octavian's theme from Strauss' 'Der Rosenkavalier', another comedy of manners with partner-swapping at its heart.


The original Broadway pit consisted of a 17 piece orchestra.

The 2008 revival of the show modified the orchestrations to an 8 piece pit, re-orchestrated by Jason Carr.[58]

Cast recordings

Cast recording of 1995 National Theatre revival starring Judi Dench

In addition to the original Broadway and London cast recordings, and the motion picture soundtrack (no longer available), there are recordings of the 1990 studio cast, the 1995 Royal National Theatre revival (starring Judi Dench), and the 2001 Barcelona cast recording sung in Catalan. In 1997 an all-jazz version of the score was recorded by Terry Trotter.[59]

The 2009 Broadway revival with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury recorded a cast album on January 4, 2010, which was released on April 6.[60]

Critical response

In his review of the original 1973 Broadway production, Clive Barnes in The New York Times called the musical "heady, civilized, sophisticated and enchanting." He noted that "the real triumph belongs to Stephen Sondheim...the music is a celebration of 3/4 time, an orgy of plaintively memorable waltzes, all talking of past loves and lost worlds...There is a peasant touch here." He commented that the lyrics are "breathtaking".[61]

In its review of the 1989 London revival, the reviewer for The Guardian wrote that the "production also strikes me as infinitely superior to Harold Prince's 1975 version at the Adelphi. Mr Judge's great innovation is to transform the Liebeslieder Singers from the evening-dressed, after-dinner line-up into 18th century ghosts weaving in and out of the action...But Mr Judge's other great realisation is that, in Sondheim, the lyrics are not an adornment to a song but their very essence: understand them and the show will flow. Thus Dorothy Tutin as Desiree, the touring thesp eventually reunited with her quondam lover, is not the melting romantic of previous productions but a working mother with the sharpness of a hat-pin."[62]

The Independent review of the 1995 National Theatre revival praised the production, writing "For three hours of gloriously barbed bliss and bewitchment, Sean Mathias's production establishes the show as a minor miracle of astringent worldly wisdom and one that is haunted by less earthy intimations." The review went on to state that "The heart of the production, in both senses, is Judi Dench's superb Desiree Armfeldt...Her husky-voiced rendering of "Send in the Clowns" is the most moving I've ever heard."[63]

In reviewing the 2008 Menier Chocolate Factory production, the Telegraph reviewer wrote that "Sondheim's lyrics are often superbly witty, his music here, mostly in haunting waltz-time, far more accessible than is sometimes the case. The score positively throbs with love, regret and desire." But of the specific production, the reviewer went on to note: "But Nunn's production, on one of those hermetic sets largely consisting of doors and tarnished mirrors that have become such a cliché in recent years, never penetrates the work's subtly erotic heart. And as is often the case with this director's work, the pace is so slow and the mood so reverent, that initial enchantment gives way to bored fidgeting."[18]

In his New York Times review of the 2009 Broadway production, Ben Brantley noted that "the expression that hovers over Trevor Nunn's revival...feels dangerously close to a smirk...It is a smirk shrouded in shadows. An elegiac darkness infuses this production." The production is "sparing on furniture and heavy on shadows", with "a scaled-down orchestra at lugubriously slowed-down tempos..." He goes on to write that "this somber, less-is-more approach could be effective were the ensemble plugged into the same rueful sensibility. But there is only one moment in this production when all its elements cohere perfectly. That moment, halfway through the first act, belongs to Ms. Lansbury, who has hitherto been perfectly entertaining, playing Madame Armfeldt with the overripe aristocratic condescension of a Lady Bracknell. Then comes her one solo, "Liaisons", in which her character thinks back on the art of love as a profession in a gilded age, when sex 'was but a pleasurable means to a measurable end.' Her face, with its glamour-gorgon makeup, softens, as Madame Armfeldt seems to melt into memory itself, and the wan stage light briefly appears to borrow radiance from her. It's a lovely example of the past reaching out to the present..."[64]

Steven Suskin, reviewing the new Broadway cast for Variety, wrote "What a difference a diva makes. Bernadette Peters steps into the six-month-old revival of A Little Night Music with a transfixing performance, playing it as if she realizes her character's onstage billing -- "the one and only Desiree Armfeldt"—is clichéd hyperbole. By figuratively rolling her eyes at the hype, Peters gives us a rich, warm and comedically human Desiree, which reaches full impact when she pierces the façade with a nakedly honest, tears-on-cheek 'Send in the Clowns.'"[65]

Awards and nominations

Original Broadway production

Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result
1973 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Book of a Musical Hugh Wheeler Won
Outstanding Music Stephen Sondheim Won
Outstanding Lyrics Won
Outstanding Actress in a Musical Glynis Johns Won
Patricia Elliott Nominated
Outstanding Director Harold Prince Won
Most Promising Performer D'Jamin Bartlett Won
Grammy Award Best Musical Show Album Won
Theatre World Award Laurence Guittard Won
Patricia Elliott Won
D'Jamin Bartlett Won
Tony Award Best Musical Won
Best Book of a Musical Hugh Wheeler Won
Best Original Score Stephen Sondheim Won
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical Len Cariou Nominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Glynis Johns Won
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical Laurence Guittard Nominated
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Patricia Elliott Won
Hermione Gingold Nominated
Best Costume Design Florence Klotz Won
Best Scenic Design Boris Aronson Nominated
Best Lighting Design Tharon Musser Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical Harold Prince Nominated

1995 London revival

Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result
1995 Laurence Olivier Award Best Actress in a Musical Judi Dench Won
Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical Siân Phillips Nominated
Best Theatre Choreographer Wayne McGregor Nominated
Best Costume Design Nicky Gillibrand Nominated

2009 London Revival

Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result
2010 Laurence Olivier Award Best Revival of a Musical Nominated
Best Actress in a Musical Hannah Waddingham Nominated
Best Actor in a Musical Alexander Hanson Nominated
Best Performance in a Supporting role in a Musical Maureen Lipman Nominated
Best Performance in a Supporting role in a Musical Kelly Price Nominated

2009 Broadway revival

Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result
2010 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Revival of a Musical Nominated
Outstanding Actress in a Musical Catherine Zeta-Jones Won
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical Angela Lansbury Nominated
Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Revival of a Musical Nominated
Outstanding Actress in a Musical Catherine Zeta-Jones Won
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical Angela Lansbury Nominated
Tony Award Best Revival of a Musical Nominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Catherine Zeta-Jones Won
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Angela Lansbury Nominated
Best Sound Design Dan Moses Schreier and Gareth Owen Nominated
2011 Grammy Award[66] Best Musical Show Album Nominated


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