We’re kicking off Giving Tuesday early this year! Your donation today will be matched up to $10K, doubling your impact! If you donate $50 today, the Reader will receive $100.

The Reader is now a community-funded nonprofit newsroom. Can we count on your support to help keep us publishing?

With its lilting yet conversational melodies, intricate rhythms, and literate, impudent, inventive rhymes, this 1973 musical reveals composer Stephen Sondheim at the top of his game. And Gary Griffin’s current staging is by far the best of the half-dozen productions I’ve seen–including director Harold Prince’s original Broadway hit. Dispensing with lavish scenic elements, Griffin and music director Thomas Murray have stripped the work to its essence–the songs and the characters–carefully reconsidering every dramatic beat, every phrase of the text, every dynamic in the score. The result does full justice to the material’s operetta charm while restoring the Chekhovian wistfulness and wry bemusement that Sondheim intended. Set in Sweden at the start of the 20th century, the story centers on two seemingly ill-sorted lovers–flighty actress Desiree and stuffy attorney Fredrik–whose midlife romance is complicated by his marriage to a child bride and her affair with a Prussian military man. Chicago stalwarts Barbara Robertson and Kevin Gudahl star as the bohemian and the bourgeois–and they’ve never been better. Robertson’s bold performance is highlighted by her biting rendition of the show’s best-known song, “Send in the Clowns.” And when she and Gudahl lock lips in a robust climactic kiss–a good old-fashioned clinch in the Hollywood style, complete with swelling strings–they fully earn their spontaneous ovation. As this insightful, creative, well-cast production proves, A Little Night Music is one of the most enduring works in American musical theater. Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand, Chicago, 312-595-5600. Through February 15: Wednesdays, 2 and 7:30 PM; Thursdays, 7:30 PM; Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 2 and 8 PM; Sundays, 2 PM; Tuesday, February 3 and 10, 7:30 PM. $48-$62.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Brosilow.