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A Little Night Music Curriculum Guide

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Guidelines for Attending the Theatre 4

Artists 5

Themes for Writing & Discussion 6

Mastery Assessment 8

For Further Exploration 10

Suggested Activities 14

© Huntington Theatre Company Boston, MA 02115

September 2015

No portion of this curriculum guide may be reproduced without written permission from the Huntington Theatre Company’s Department of Education & Community Programs

Inquiries should be directed to:

Donna Glick | Director of [email protected]

This curriculum guide was prepared for the Huntington Theatre Company by:

Marisa Jones | Education Assistant

with contributions by:

Donna Glick | Director of Education

Alexandra Truppi I Manager of Curriculum & Instruction

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Reading Literature: Key Ideas and Details 1

• Grades 9-10: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

• Grades 11-12: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences from from the text, including where the text leaves matters uncertain.

Reading Literature: Key Ideas and Details 2

• Grades 9-10: Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

• Grades 11-12: Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide and objective summary of the text.

Reading Literature: Key Ideas and Details 3

• Grades 9-10: Analyze how complex characters (e.g. those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the themes.

• Grades 11-12: Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop related elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).

STANDARDS: Student Matinee performances and pre-show workshops provide unique opportunities for experiential learning and support various combinations of the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts. They may also support standards in other subject areas such as Social Studies and History, depending on the individual play’s subject matter.

Activities are also included in this Curriculum Guide and in our pre-show workshops that support several of the Massachusetts state standards in theatre. Other arts areas may also be addressed depending on the individual play’s subject matter.

Reading Literature: Craft and Structure 5

• Grades 9-10: Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks), create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.

• Grades 11-12: Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

Reading Literature: Craft and Structure 6

• Grades 11-12: Analyze a case in which grasping point of view required distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).

Reading Literature: Integration of Knowledge and Ideas 7

• Grades 9-12: Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g. recorded or live production of a play or recorded novel or poetry), evaluating how each version interprets the source text (Include at least one play by Shakespeare and one play by an American dramatist).

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• 1.7 — Create and sustain a believable character throughout a scripted or improvised scene (By the end of Grade 8).

• 1.12 — Describe and analyze, in written and oral form, characters’ wants, needs, objectives, and personality characteristics (By the end of Grade 8).

• 1.13 — In rehearsal and performance situations, perform as a productive and responsible member of an acting ensemble (i.e., demonstrate personal responsibility and commitment to a collaborative process) (By the end of Grade 8).

• 1.14 — Create complex and believable characters through the integration of physical, vocal, and emotional choices (Grades 9-12).

• 1.15 — Demonstrate an understanding of a dramatic work by developing a character analysis (Grades 9-12).

• 1.17 — Demonstrate increased ability to work effectively alone and collaboratively with a partner or in an ensemble (Grades 9-12).


• 2.7 — Read plays and stories from a variety of cultures and historical periods and identify the characters, setting, plot, theme, and conflict (By the end of Grade 8).

• 2.8 — Improvise characters, dialogue, and actions that focus on the development and resolution of dramatic conflicts (By the end of Grade 8).

• 2.11 — Read plays from a variety of genres and styles; compare and contrast the structure of plays to the structures of other forms of literature (Grades 9-12).


• 4.6 — Draw renderings, floor plans, and/or build models of sets for a dramatic work and explain choices in using visual elements (line, shape/form, texture, color, space) and visual principals (unity, variety, harmony, balance, rhythm) (By the

end of Grade 8).

• 4.13 — Conduct research to inform the design of sets, costumes, sound, and lighting for a dramatic production (Grades 9-12).


• Strand 6: Purposes and Meanings in the Arts — Students will describe the purposes for which works of dance, music, theatre, visual arts, and architecture were and are created, and, when appropriate, interpret their meanings (Grades PreK-12).

• Strand 10: Interdisciplinary Connections — Students will apply their knowledge of the arts to the study of English language arts, foreign languages, health, history and social science, mathematics, and science and technology/engineering (Grades PreK-12).

AUDIENCE ETIQUETTEAttending live theatre is a unique experience with many valuable educational and social benefits. To ensure that all audience members are able to enjoy the performance, please take a few minutes to discuss the following audience etiquette topics with your students before you come to the Huntington Theatre Company.

• How is attending the theatre similar to and different from going to the movies? What behaviors are and are not appropriate when seeing a play? Why?

• Remind students that because the performance is live, the audience’s behavior and reactions will affect the actors’ performances. No two audiences are exactly the same, and therefore no two performances are exactly the same — this is part of what makes theatre so special! Students’ behavior should reflect the level of performance they wish to see.

• Theatre should be an enjoyable experience for the audience. It is absolutely all right to applaud when appropriate and laugh at the funny moments. Talking and calling out during the performance, however, are not allowed. Why might this be? Be sure to mention that not only would the people seated around them be able to hear their conversation, but the actors on stage could hear them, too. Theatres are constructed to carry sound efficiently!

• Any noise or light can be a distraction, so please remind students to make sure their cell phones are turned off (or better yet, left at home or at school!). Texting, photography, and video recording are prohibited. Food, gum, and drinks should not be brought into the theatre.

• Students should sit with their group as seated by the Front of House staff and should not leave their seats once the performance has begun.


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Stephen Joshua Sondheim was born on March 22, 1930, in New York City, the only child of Herbert Sondheim, a prominent dress manufacturer, and Janet Fox Sondheim, his former chief designer. A highly intelligent child, Sondheim picked out tunes on the piano at the age of four, skipped kindergarten, and read The New York Times while in first grade. He loved puzzles, games, and anagrams. His parents divorced when he was 10 years old and Sondheim moved with his mother to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where he met and became close with musical theatre lyricist Oscar Hammerstein and his family. The Hammersteins became surrogate parents, and Oscar served as a role model for young Stephen. Enrolled at the George School, a prestigious private high school, Sondheim composed his first musical, By George!, a satire of campus life. He showed it to Hammerstein who gave him a four-hour critique. “I learned more that afternoon about song-writing and musical theatre than most people learn in a lifetime,” Sondheim later recalled. Hammerstein tutored Sondheim in the art and craft of writing for musical theatre and outlined a course of study that would last for six years.

In 1951, Sondheim won a two year fellowship to study with avant-garde composer Milton Babbitt in New York City. Babbitt later remarked that “[Sondheim] wanted his music to be as sophisticated and as knowing within the obvious restraints of a Broadway musical.” In 1955, Sondheim secured his first professional job in the theatre composing the score for the show Saturday Night, intended for Broadway. The project collapsed in pre-production, but after hearing Sondheim’s score, composer Leonard Bernstein asked him to write the lyrics for his new musical based on Romeo and Juliet. Sondheim hesitated but was convinced by Hammerstein to accept the offer. The musical became West Side Story and opened in 1957. It ran on Broadway for nearly two years.

Teaming with composer Jule Styne, Sondheim wrote the lyrics for Gypsy in 1959, followed by A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in 1962, which was the first musical for which Sondheim was both composer and lyricist. Sondheim dedicated it to the memory of Oscar Hammerstein, who died in 1960. Sondheim then composed Anyone Can Whistle which closed after only nine performances. Out of loyalty to Hammerstein, but against his better judgement, Sondheim then agreed to write lyrics to Richard Rodgers’ music for Do I Hear a Waltz? Although the show ran only four months, Sondheim received his first Tony Award nomination for his work. After he had contributed music and lyrics to the television musical, Evening Primrose, Sondheim began the collaboration with George Furth, Harold Prince, and Michael Bennett that resulted in Company, which opened in 1970. Critics called the work “groundbreaking” and “the first modernist musical.” It won the New York Drama Critics’ Award and received 12 Tony Award nominations, winning six including, Best Musical and Sondheim’s first for Best Music and Best Lyrics.

During the 1970s, Sondheim wrote music and lyrics for Follies, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd, and A Little Night Music. He also co-wrote a screenplay called The Last of Sheila and contributed new lyrics to Leonard Bernstein’s score for Candide. He went on to write the scores of Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, Assassins, Passion, and Road Show, and is considered to be the leading composer in the American musical theatre. “Send in the Clowns,” from A Little Night Music, however, was his first major hit, and the show remains one of his most popular and romantic musicals.


1. Continue your research of Sondheim and his body of work. Select a song from each of his musicals in chronological order and evaluate the progression of his music and lyric forms. How has Sondheim’s work evolved over the past 40 years? In what ways has it remained the same?

2. Next, listen to examples of music from musicals written by artists other than Sondheim. Compare and contrast Sondheim’s work with earlier musical theatre composers and lyricists such as Leonard Bernstein, Richard Rodgers, and Oscar Hammerstein. Which songs are structured in the traditional Rodgers and Hammerstein “character sings his/her emotions while advancing the storyline’ and which shows the Sondheim ‘concept musical’ influence, which broke the more traditional structure?”


Composer Stephen Sondheim

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Actress Desiree Armfeldt feels an attraction to her former lover, Fredrik Egerman, during her performance on the night Fredrik surprises his current wife with tickets to Desiree’s show. Perhaps Fredrik should have known better than to seek out Desiree, but after being deprived of a physical relationship for the first 11 months of marriage to the young and pretty Anne, rekindling the romance with the attractive actress looms large in his mind. Anne, however, is not a fool and realizes the nature of her husband’s intentions almost immediately. She is reluctant to consummate the marriage because she sees him as a father figure or an uncle rather than her lover. Additionally, it appears she is falling in love with her stepson, Henrik, who is much closer in age and with whom she spends a great deal of time. Henrik is in love with his stepmother, but his attempts to tell her so are constantly thwarted. His frustration leads him into the arms of the household maid, Petra.

The presence of Fredrik’s wife is not a concern for Desiree. It is also not a concern that her current lover, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, who is also married, insists on making his presence known. He is more of a nuisance than anything else and Desiree is clearly not in love with him. The Count, married to one of Anne’s old friends named Charlotte, is outraged upon finding Desiree with Fredrik wearing nothing but a night shirt . . . which unfortunately belongs to the Count. He is baffled by Desiree’s lack of faithfulness to him, which is ironic and extremely humorous given his own marital status. The Count’s frustration with Desiree becomes gossip in his own home and he implores his wife to seek Anne out in order to expose Fredrik and Desiree’s secret relationship. Out of loyalty and desperation, Charlotte agrees, and through their reunion, Charlotte convinces Anne to accept Desiree’s invitation to Madame Armfeldt’s chateau in the country to spend the weekend in a covert operation to win back their husbands.

Desiree admits to her young daughter Fredrika that she is conspiring to lure Fredrik out of Anne’s grasp. Luckily, Anne and Henrik finally have a moment alone together during which they

can admit their true feelings. Desiree is also fortunate that the Count has misunderstood Fredrik’s intentions towards Charlotte and after feeling a jealous rage challenges Fredrik to a duel, and feels compelled to finally take his wife home. Even Petra has found a more appropriate relationship with another servant during her “weekend in the country.”


1. Consider each character and describe the ways in which they have “played” the game of love: Did Anne ever flirt with Henrik? What romantic advice did Charlotte give Anne? How did Fredrik garner the attention of the famous Desiree Armfeldt? How did Desiree signal that she was interested in Fredrik? Why does Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm insist on challenging Fredrik to a duel?

2. After watching or reading the musical, do you believe that the story has a happy ending? Do you think the romantic shifts make sense, or do you think that certain characters are being reckless with their feelings? How well did these individuals play the game of love?



Madame Armfeldt has all but predicted the events before they unfold. She speaks to her young granddaughter, Fredrika, with the authority of a woman who has seen it all. And when she considers her granddaughter and her own daughter she believes there exists a poverty in their thinking. Madame Armfeldt speaks of the night smiling three times: “The first smile smiles at the young, who know nothing… the second, at the fools who know too little … and the third at the old who know too much.”

Fredrika watches her mother Desiree’s life unfold with inquisitive eyes. She listens attentively to her grandmother’s stories and asks many questions, which display her youth and innocence. It could also be argued that Anne and Henrik approach life with a similar naiveté. Henrik insists on making himself a man of the cloth, consumed with his studies at the seminary, yet practically speaking, he is more of a tortured soul, certain of nothing. Anne has made a very practical decision to marry well and chose the security of an older man instead of following her heart. Their actions show they lack perspective and are not quite aware of what will bring them true happiness.

Fredrik, the Count, and Desiree also struggle, especially in their romantic lives, but not because they lack knowledge. Pride, vanity, and irresponsibility plague their decision making. Fredrik chooses a young and beautiful woman for his second wife, because he can, not because he should. He knows all too well that Anne does not feel towards him the way a woman should towards her husband, but having her on his arm boosts his ego. The Count is prepared to throw away his perfectly decent marriage for the “sport” of chasing around a mistress. He feels almost as if it is his “right” as a man of his social status, an entitlement to have a woman to call on in every city. It is not until he believes he’s on the brink of losing Charlotte that he


Stephen Bogardus (Fredrik Egerman), Haydn Gwynne (Desiree Armfeldt), and Mike McGowan (Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm) in the

Huntington Theatre Company’s production of A Little Night Music










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can actually see her and appreciate her devotion to him. Desiree, of course, may believe she knows what she wants after seeing Fredrik again, but has spent the better part of her adult life traveling the world for her acting career without much serious thought to settling down, all while her daughter is being raised by her mother. Desiree makes a gamble with her “weekend in the country” event, which is ultimately a grand success. As the night smiles on the younger generations, Madame Armfeldt can close her eyes knowing she’s saved her best champagne for her final toast to the world, confident in what she’s learned during her full and long life and secure in the knowledge that both the youth and the fools have finally sorted themselves out.


1. Is it fair to say that the “young know nothing?” Do you agree that Anne and Henrik showed an inability to make good decisions? Who do you think showed the most wisdom through his or her actions? Why?

2. Is it surprising when Fredrik says, “How unlikely life is! To lose one’s son, one’s wife, and practically one’s life within an hour and yet to feel — relieved. Relieved, and, what’s more, considerably less ancient.” Has Fredrik really “lost” Henrik? Why did Anne make Fredrik feel old instead of young?

3. What does it mean for the night to “smile?” Does it mean that everything comes together? Is the ending of A Little Night Music a happy one? Why or why not?



In a humorous moment during what would otherwise be a tense one, Fredrik and Anne return from the play and catch Henrik in a compromising position with the household maid. Instead of Fredrik feeling anger, the stage directions read: “Fredrik gives HENRIK a

look, sizing up the situation approvingly, before following ANNE into the bedroom.” Fredrik may be completely oblivious to the fact that he is torturing his son through his marriage to Anne. However, he certainly wishes for his son to be happy and is proud of his accomplishments at home and in seminary school.

The situation in the Armfeldt household is perhaps more strained. Madame Armfeldt has made her opinions of Desiree’s lifestyle and career choices quite clear. She is very disappointed in her daughter and takes the extreme step of removing Fredrika from Desiree’s care because she believes it is inappropriate for a child to travel the world when she should be properly educated in a stable home environment. In Act I, Scene 1, Madame Armfeldt sings:

Ordinary daughters ameliorate their lot,Use their charms and choose their futures,Breed their children, heed their mothers.Ordinary daughters, which mine, I fear, is not,Tend each asset, spend it wiselyWhile it still endures…

Mine tours.

If Madame Armfeldt, is angry and hurt her by her daughter’s actions, her granddaughter takes an opposing view, feeling somewhat in awe of her beautiful mother and her exciting life. Instead of displaying feelings of disappointment or resentment, Fredrika sings:

Ordinary mothers lead ordinary lives,Keep the house and sweep the parlor,Cook the meals and look exhausted.Ordinary mothers, like ordinary wives,Fry the eggs and dry the sheetsAnd try to deal with facts —

Mine acts!

As complicated as the romantic relationships become in A Little Night Music, it is family relationships that provide the foundation for these characters’ lives. Ultimately, as lovers consider switching partners, the family bond remains intact and is almost certainly strengthened as a result. Madame Armfeldt can leave this world peacefully knowing that her daughter has finally chosen a “future” which includes properly caring for Fredrika and finding real love.


1. If you were Fredrika, would you be upset by your mother’s choice to tour as an actress rather than raise you? Would you be angry with your grandmother for pulling you away from the touring lifestyle, or would you be relieved to be in one place, going to school and making friends in that town?

2. Would you be angry with a parent, if after a divorce or death of his or her spouse, for marrying someone your own age?

3. What mistakes do you think the parents/children have made during the course of this story? Do you feel hopeful by the musical’s conclusion that everyone will be able to forgive each other and move forward with their lives?

The cast of the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of A Little Night Music










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1. Which characters appear onstage first? What are they singing about?

2. The main characters appear at the end of the song. What are they doing together?


3. At the beginning of the prologue, what game is Madame Armfeldt playing? Who is sitting with her and what instructions has she given to this person?

4. Describe the situation in which Fredrika has grown up.

5. According to Madame Armfeldt, how does one know when the night smiles?

6. What instrument does Fredrika play?


Scene 1

7. What is Henrik studying in school?

8. How is Henrik related to Anne?

9. Why does Henrik want time alone with Anne and request to go for a walk?

10. What surprise does Fredrik have for Anne?

11. Who is Desiree Armfeldt? Why is Anne excited to see her?

12. It has been 11 months since Fredrik and Anne married, but what is Anne is still afraid of?

13. What word is Henrik tired of hearing? Why might he be frustrated?

14. How does Fredrik describe the “ordinary mother?”

15. Why is Madame Armfeldt frustrated with her daughter? How has Desiree disappointed her mother?

Scene 2

16. Who are Fredrik’s typists?

17. According to the ladies, what qualities does Desiree possess?

18. Why is Anne upset by the performance during her surprise night out?

Scene 3

19. Who does Anne catch in the act of “sinning” and what is her reaction? What is Fredrik’s?

Scene 4

20. According to Desiree, what does Fredrik regularly do during her performances?

21. What is the nature of Fredrik and Desiree’s relationship?

22. How does Desiree explain why her daughter is no longer living with her?

23. Who arrives during Desiree and Fredrik’s liaison? Why is this guest a surprise to Desiree?

24. What is Fredrik’s excuse for his presence?

25. Explain the irony of Carl-Magnus’ demand for Desiree to be loyal and faithful to him.

Scene 5

25. What connection does Carl-Magnus make while speaking with Charlotte?

26. Is Charlotte aware of Carl-Magnus’ extra-marital relationships?

Scene 6

27. Who calls on Anne while she is with Petra?

28. How does Charlotte describe her husband?

29. What news does Charlotte share with Anne? How does Anne react?

Scene 7

30. What is Madame Armfeldt’s “advice for the day?” What is her rationale for this statement?

31. What favor does Desiree ask of her mother?

32. What invitation has Anne received? How does she react to it? What does Fredrik think? What is Desiree’s motivation for this event?

33. Why does Charlotte think Anne should accept Desiree’s invitation?

34. Who is going uninvited to a “weekend in the country?”

35. What is the snag in Desiree’s plan as she describes it to Fredrika?


36. What is the purpose of the Liebeslieder singers during the transition between Acts one and two?


Scene 1

1. Where does Act Two open?

2. Who has arrived early to the “weekend in the country?”

3. What reason does Carl-Magnus give for his unexpected arrival? What awkward situation has developed for Desiree?

Scene 2

4. What is Charlotte’s plan to spoil the weekend?

Scene 2A

5. What does Henrik confess to Fredrika?

Scene 3

6. What “ifs” do Carl-Magnus and Fredrik have about their relationships with Desiree?

7. What does Fredrik assume when he learns Desiree’s daughter’s name?

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Scene 4

8. How is the dining room arranged for the guests?

9. Why is Carl-Magnus embarrassed by Charlotte?

10. To what does Madame Armfeldt toast?

11. Why is Henrik upset and who wants to go after him?

Scene 5

12. What secret does Fredrika tell Anne? Why is Fredrika worried about Henrik?

Scene 5A

13. What upsets Henrik at the conclusion of the scene?

Scene 6

14. Desiree reveals her true intentions to Fredrik. Does he feel the same way?

Scene 7

15. In what position does Anne finally catch Henrik?

16. How does Anne feel about Henrik?

17. What is Petra’s new plan?

Scene 8

18. What does Charlotte admit to Fredrik? Was her plan a success?

19. Is Desiree subtle in her attempt to break off the relationship with the Count? What does Carl-Magnus see that incites his rage?

20. What happened to the Croation Count?

21. To what game does Carl-Magnus challenge Fredrik?

22. Why is Fredrik relieved temporarily?

23. How does the story conclude? How did the night smile three times?

RELATED WORKS & RESOURCESContinue your research of Stephen Sondheim and his contributions to the world of musical theatre. The following suggested works were also used in the development of this curriculum guide.

Other Musicals by Stephen Sondheim:


Into the Woods (with book by James Lapine)

Sunday in the Park with George (with book by James Lapine)

West Side Story (with music by Leonard Bernstein and book by Arthur Laurents)

For Further Research:

Bainton, Roland H. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther.

Abingdon Press; Reprint edition, 2006.

DeWitt, Charlotte J. Sweden-Culture Smart!: the

Essential Guide to Customs & Culture. Kuperard; Reprint edition, 2006.

Kenrick, John. Musical Theatre: A History. Bloomsbury Academic, 2010.

Maslon, Laurence. Broadway: The American Musical. Applause Theatre & Cinema Book, 2001.

Sondheim, Stephen. Sondheim on Music: Minor Details

and Major Decisions. Scarecrow Press, 2010.

Sondheim, Stephen. Look, I Made a Hat. Knopf, 2011.

Secrest, Meryle. Stephen Sondheim: A Life. Vintage, 2011.

Swayne, Steve. How Sondheim Found His Sound. U of Michigan Press, 2007.

The cast of the Broadway revival of Sunday in the Park with George (2008)

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A Little Night Music, like many other great pieces of art, is based upon another work, the romantic comedy entitled Smiles of a Summer Night. This Swedish film received much critical acclaim when it was released in 1955. The film’s director, Ingmar Bergman, won international recognition after its 1965 showing at the Cannes Film Festival. It is considered by many film critics to be a “top 100 film” of all time.

At the heart of this story is the romantic conflict amongst a group of old acquaintances — which keeps all of the characters, married or not, in turmoil. Smiles of a Summer Night is set during a party at the Armfeldt’s estate to celebrate the Midsummer Night, the shortest night of the year, which was a traditional observance in Sweden at the turn of the 19th century. On this evening, many people would stay up until dawn, partying the night away. In the film, Desiree Armfeldt, a famous theatrical star, invites her current lover and his wife, a man she is interested in and his young wife and son, along with various servants to her mother’s country home. Through a series of conflicts and accidents, the “couples” break up and rearrange themselves into much more suitable pairs. The film concludes with a happy ending.

Following the success of the film, Bergman said that he wrote and directed the movie to show his critics his range as an artist; at the time, Bergman, already considered widely to be one of the most talented directors of the 20th century, had a body of work that was considered dark and contemplative. He is credited with

breaking the traditional film structure by experimenting with form — he was less interested in the spectacle on the large screen and instead deeply devoted to the analysis of his characters. Themes which emerged in many of his films and throughout his career include: the dynamics of marriage, the complexity of the human mind, the loss of the artist’s identity, man’s relationship to God, and the inevitability of life ending in a sad, slow decline.


1. Continue researching Ingmar Bergman’s film career. What kind of films was Bergman known for before Smiles of a Summer Night? Did Smiles of a Summer Night mark a departure in Bergman’s career? Were critics and audiences shocked that Bergman directed this particular film?

2. Choose one of Bergman’s other films to view and compare and contrast with Smiles of a Summer Night. What aspects of the films make it clear that they are the work of the same director? How do they reflect similar ideas but translate them differently through comedy instead of drama?

3. In addition to A Little Night Music, what other pieces of art have been inspired by this film?

4. After attending the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of A Little Night Music, compare and contrast the plot lines and themes to Bergman’s film. How are the stories and settings similar and different from each other? Do the characters remain the same (names, personalities, ages, etc.) from film to stage? Which artistic form, in your opinion, best tells the story of these couples in their quest for love — film or theatre?


A scene from Ingmar Bergman’s film Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)

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Stephen Sondheim’s Company is considered by many to be a landmark musical. Actor and playwright George Furth wrote a series of one act plays based on the culture of romantic relationships in New York City, and after reading the plays, Sondheim asked his friend and collaborator Harold Prince if the work could be the foundation for a musical. Company uses a central character, Robert, who is himself single and apprehensive about commitment, to examine the relationships of his married and engaged friends. The “breakthrough” for the musical theatre genre occurred when Sondheim, librettist Furth, producer/director Prince, and choreographer Michael Bennett “broke the rules” of the traditional structure of the American musical. Sondheim commented, “[we] realized early on that the kind of song that would not work in the show was the Rodgers and Hammerstein kind of song in which the characters reach a certain point and then sing their emotions . . . In Company the songs are really outside the scenes rather than part of them. You can’t guess so well in advance when the dialogue is building to a musical cue.” Instead of being sequential and linear, Company is “plotless.” Sondheim and Prince commented on this break with tradition:

Sondheim: A lot of the controversy about Company was that up until [this musical] most musicals, if not all musicals, had plots. In fact, up until Company, I thought all musicals had to have very strong plots. One of the things that fascinated me about the challenge of the show was to see if a musical could be

done without one. Many of the people who disliked the show disliked it for that reason. They wanted a strong story line and they didn’t get one and were disappointed.

Prince: Company was the first musical I had done without conventional plot or subplot structure. The first without hero and heroine, without the comic relief couple. There are, of course, plots, but they are subtextual and grow out of subconscious behavior, psychological stresses, inadvertent relations: the nature of the lie people accept to preserve their relationship.


1. After researching and viewing/reading, Company, compare and contrast it with A Little Night Music. How are the two musicals similar? How are they different?

2. Did Sondheim work on any other musicals after Company that successfully dispensed with a linear plot structure?


In A Little Night Music, Henrik references his study of the well-known church reformer, Martin Luther, in his discussions with Anne regarding his religious training. Luther’s teachings are central to Henrik’s education in seminary, as Anne discovers when she picks up one of his books, which quotes Luther as saying, “You cannot prevent the birds from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from nesting in your hair.”

Jon Cryer, Aaron Lazar, Craig Bierko, Jim Walton, Stephen Colbert, and Neil Patrick Harris (center) in the New York Philharmonic’s presentation of Company (2011)

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Martin Luther, a German, lived from 1483 until 1546. He was born to hard working parents of modest means. Luther’s father desperately wanted him to become a lawyer and spent a great deal of resources securing his son’s education. Luther compared much of his time in school to “purgatory or Hell” and quickly dropped out of law school. Feeling uncertain about pursuing a career in the field of law, he turned his attention to Biblical study, which he believed held more purpose and promise. Through his schooling he adopted two important viewpoints that would color his work in the church: To question authority and recognize that reason and rationalization would not lead a person to God. A near-death experience drove him into the Augustinian Friary to study, a move that infuriated his father who deemed it a “waste” of an education.

Luther continued his education, receiving another bachelor’s degree and doctoral degree and finally landed at the University of Wittenberg where he served in the theological department as a Doctor in Bible for the remainder of his career. The Dominican Friar Johann Tetzel came to Germany in 1516 to raise funds for the building and renovation of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. He was sent to offer “indulgences” to the congregation there; the idea being that man must prove his heart through works and by donating money to the church, then the “good deed” would be achieved. Luther was outraged by this practice and expressed his objection

in a letter to his local bishop. The letter included a document titled the “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” which came to be known as “The Ninety-Five Theses.” The Roman Catholic Church considered Luther’s assertions to be blasphemous, raising especially strong objections to Luther’s 86th line which asked, “Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?”

Luther’s disgust with the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope continued to grow. He viewed the church as a corrupt organization in which the most powerful leaders received the largest financial gains, while the true message of the Bible was largely ignored, as it did not further the financial goals of the Papacy. Luther came to believe that the only way to receive “Salvation” or redemption was when a person accepted Jesus Christ as his or her savior. The “indulgences” which were supposed to absolve an individual from their sins, were an inappropriate transaction in Luther’s view, as forgiveness was God’s alone to grant. Luther’s philosophy and teachings became the foundation of the Protestant church.

“The Ninety-Five Theses” and Luther’s radical message crossed Europe and people clambered to hear him speak; however, Luther attracted negative attention from the Catholic Pope, who excommunicated Luther in 1520 for refusing to recant his more heretical statements. In April 1521, at the Diet of Worms, a general assembly of the estates in the Holy Roman Empire, Luther continued to publicly refuse to retract his words. As a result, the Roman emperor exiled Luther, made it a crime to feed or shelter him, and announced that Luther’s murder would be legally allowed. Fortunately for Luther, his powerful ally, Elector Friedrich the Wise, had him rescued and provided safe passage to the Wartburg Castle. During Luther’s stay, he translated the New Testament from Latin to German, one of his most important accomplishments, making the Bible more accessible to the lay person. In another astonishing break from the Catholic Church, Luther also declared that priests and nuns should not be afraid to marry, believing that the celibacy required of these vocations would not secure one’s place in heaven and the practice was similar to the “indulgences” he so opposed. Luther himself married Katharina von Bora, a nun he helped escape from her convent. This marriage laid the precedent for high ranking church officials in the Protestant church to do the same.


1. Continue your research of Martin Luther. Why might Henrik have admired Luther’s work?

2. What would Luther think about the lives of the characters in A Little Night Music?

3. Do you agree with Luther about the corruption in the Catholic Church? Why or why not? Why do some scholars consider Luther a controversial figure, beyond his views of the Papacy and the Catholic Church?



ER / N



Catherine Zeta-Jones as Desiree Armfeldt in the 2009 Broadway revival of A Little Night Music

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Nearly four decades after the original production of A Little Night Music, Sondheim’s masterpiece returned to Broadway in 2009 boasting an all-star cast. The following year, the production received nominations and awards from the Drama League, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and the Tony Awards. Catherine Zeta-Jones won critical praise and multiple awards, including a Tony Award, for her performance as Desiree Armfeldt. Angela Lansbury played the role of her mother, Madame Armfeldt.

With ticket prices averaging $100 each, it is surprising that it took such a long time for the show to return to Broadway, as it promised producers and investors to be a commercial success. It ran for two years, with 425 performance and 20 previews and grossed over $38 million dollars. Beyond the obvious financial benefits of a revival, some critics suggested that it seemed “too easy” to put the story back onstage, arguing that A Little Night Music is not one of Sondheim’s more complex works such as Sweeney Todd or Company. Nevertheless, the revival of A Little Night Music enjoyed success not only in New York City but London as well.


1. The revival of A Little Night Music was an obvious commercial success, but was it an artistic one? Read some critical reviews of this particular production. Do you think it was the right time for this story’s revival? Do you think the production was well cast?

2. What are the potential pitfalls in re-producing an already famous musical? Why are popular stories sometimes hard to re-tell?


Smiles of a Summer Night is a Swedish film. Therefore it is not surprising that the musical it inspired is also set in this Scandinavian country. Sweden is located in Northern Europe bordering Norway and Finland. It is geographically the largest country on the continent, but does not have the largest population, as only 9.7 million people call Sweden home. The capital is Stockholm and the majority of the population lives close to urban centers. Sweden boasts the 8th highest ranking in the world for per capita income and maintains the Nordic Welfare System, which includes health care and educational services for its citizens and ranks at the top worldwide in the category of “quality of life.” Swedes live under a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy.

In the late 19th century, the time in which A Little Night Music is set, Sweden was relatively poor — as other countries were industrializing, Sweden continued to support an agricultural economy. The country’s increasing population was attributed to a combination of the availability of a small pox vaccine, a healthy potato crop, and peace, as war puts a strain on a country’s resources. Between 1850 and 1910, over 1 million Swedes immigrated to the United States.

After the church reform lead by Martin Luther in the 1500s, the authority of the Catholic Church was abolished in Sweden and by the late 1900s, citizens were legally allowed to practice other religions.


1. Continue your research of Sweden. How do the country’s geography, history, and culture influence A Little Night Music?

2. After attending the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of A Little Night Music, reflect on the visual design elements of the show, including costumes, props, and scenery. Where do you see a Swedish influence in these design elements?

3. Is this a Swedish musical, an American musical, or something else? Do you believe that the themes in A Little Night Music are universal in nature, accessible to a wide audience, or not?


A map of Sweden and its neighbors in northern Europe

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In anticipation of your visit to the B.U. Theatre to see the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of A Little Night Music, think about what the set and props designers will create for the production. Begin by reading the following stage directions from the script:

The place: Sweden

The time: Turn of the 19th century


The Broadway set for A Little Night Music stressed a fluid merging of scenes with no cumbersome set changes.

The stage was multi-level and used tracked platforms which moved the larger set pieces on and off stage. Rooms were defined by furniture groupings.

The basic frame for the production was screens which moved to mask actors’ entrances and exits and to define new scenes.

The second act was dominated by the upstage façade of Madame Armfeldt’s country chateau which remained throughout the last act.

Create a set design for A Little Night Music. Starting with the opening number, notate the set arrangement for each scene from beginning to the end of the play.

Reflect: Did you closely follow the instructions from the text or did you arrange the stage as you wished? Share your design proposal with the class, after seeking advice and critique from peers, and be prepared to defend your choices!

After attending the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of A Little Night Music, compare and contrast your proposal with the design you saw on stage. Did anything surprise you about the set’s arrangement? Is there anything you, as the scenic designer, would have done differently?


Opening Number

Act I, Prologue

Act I, Scene 1


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An evening of musical theatre is “when everybody has a good time — even in the crying scenes.” – Bob Fosse, Director/Choreographer

Musical theatre is often considered the most collaborative art form. To measure a work of musical theatre accurately means to weigh the contributions of many different artists, including the librettist, composer, lyricist, director, choreographer, actors, singers, dancers, and designers of scenery, costumes, and lighting. In his book, The Musical, Richard Kislan writes that “musical theatre offers an intricate and colorful puzzle for the senses with each piece complete enough in its artistry to fulfill a prescribed function while subservient enough to submit to the assimilation necessary for the total effect of a work that in performance loses, as if by magic, the seams that separate the parts.”

Musical theatre is also as old as western theatre itself. From its beginnings as ritual chanting of a dithyramb addressed to the Greek god Dionysus, to the musically underscored pantomime of the pre-Christian days of the Roman Empire, to the origins of the opera during the Renaissance, musical theatre combines music and drama to create a union that enhances the power of each art, creating a unique theatrical experience. Over the centuries, different formulas combining music and theatre have led to a myriad of alternative forms ranging from oratorio to operetta to the rock musical. Many scholars believe that America’s contributions to the evolution of musical theatre is perhaps our nation’s greatest artistic achievement.


The Book: Sometimes called the libretto, the book of a musical is typically written first. The book generates the “theatre” in the musical theatre form. It is the glue which binds the other elements together. The book encompasses the necessary components of the dramatic form, such as:

characters – the people in the storyplot – the sequence of actions and events that drive the characters, ideas, or situationssituation – any moment within the plot that generates drama, sustains audience attention, and begs for resolutiondialogue – speech; generally a companion in tone and style to the lyrics of the musicaltheme – main idea (or ideas) of the story

In a traditional musical book the following dramatic elements are generally established within the first five minutes of the performance, either through action or exposition:

time – morning, afternoon, or nightplace – geographical settingcharacters – social identity, status, relationshipstheme – a hint of the message or purpose of the story is introducedconflict – obstacles that the characters must endeavor to overcometone – mood of the musical (serious, comedic, etc.)

The Lyrics: The lyrics are the words written to accompany the score. Lyrics must be compact and meaningful. Song lyrics differ from all other forms of literature because lyric form and musical form must synchronize. Sondheim explains, “Lyrics exist in time — as opposed to poetry. You can read a poem at your own speed, but on the stage the lyrics come at you and you hear them once. Second, lyrics go with music and music is very rich. Lyrics therefore have to be underwritten.”

The Score: The music! Music expresses and reinforces the emotion in the drama and stimulates or serves the dramatic action. Music establishes the tone and sets the mood of the story. Its component parts are melody, which represents an aural image of the lyric, harmony, which creates tones that color the aural image, and rhythm, which contrasts the dramatic values of character and action.

Elements of the score include: the overture, opening number, establishing songs, patter songs, rhythm songs, chorus numbers, musical scenes, underscoring, segues, and reprises. Songs with dramatic functions are often called: ballads, charm songs, comedy songs, “I am” songs, and “I want” songs. Consider A Little Night Music and identify one song for each of these dramatic functions.

Emily Blunt as the Baker’s Wife and James Corden as the Baker in the 2014 film adaptation of Into the Woods

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Ask students to work in groups to research and

define each of the following musical theatre forms,

citing examples of the influence of earlier forms. Students should be encouraged to present recorded examples that will allow the class to appreciate the variety of music, songs, artists, and musical facts that represent their findings. Assign teams to one or more of the following categories:



Ballad Opera







Musical Comedy

Concept Musical

Rock Musical/Rock Opera

Create student teams and assign one of the following musicals as the subject for a research project to be shared in class.

Show Boat Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, 1927

Porgy and Bess George and Ira Gershwin, 1935

South Pacific Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, 1949

West Side Story Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, 1957

Hair MacDermott, Ragnis and Rado, 1968

Jesus Christ Superstar Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber, 1971

Les Miserables Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, 1980

Assassins Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman, 1990

Next to Normal Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, 2008

Questions to Consider:

Who are the composers, lyricists, directors, and producers?

What themes are prevalent in these musicals?

What historical relationships do these musicals have with their themes?

Why were these “serious” musicals popular, resonating with wide audiences?

What social impacts did these musicals have on their first audiences?

Why were these musicals considered controversial at the time of their world premieres?

Audra McDonald as Bess and Norm Lewis Porgy as in the 2012 Broadway revival of Porgy and Bess

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Part 1: Chart the plot structure of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music (using a piece of graph paper can be helpful for this exercise). Use the model below to help notate the rising and falling action, central conflict, climax, and finally the musical’s resolution.

Part 2, Option A: Complete the same exercise for Smiles of a Summer Night, the film on which A Little Night Music is based. Do the charts line up similarly? Or, are there different events that impact how the plot unfolds?

Part 2, Option B: Complete the same exercise for Company, the musical by Sondheim that dispensed with conventional linear storytelling. How does the plot of Company develop over the course of the story?


(a decision must be made about

the conflict)

Rising Action

(events that lead to the conflict)

Falling Action

(events in which the conflict unravels)


(intro of characters, setting, etc.)


(a new status quo is established)

The cast of the New York Philharmonic’s presentation of Company (2011)

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Select and perform a scene from A Little Night Music.

Part 1: Begin preparations to perform the scene by answering the following questions:

• What are the given circumstances (5 W’s) of this scene?

• What is the scene’s primary conflict?

• Objectives: What does my character want in this scene? What does my character want in the play overall?

• Tactics: What is my character doing to get what he or she wants?

• Obstacles: What or who is standing in the way of my character’s efforts to achieve his or her objective?

• Stakes: What is at risk for my character? What is the best thing that could happen if my character achieves his or her objective? What is the worst thing that could happen if he or she fails?

• What adjectives describe my character’s personality? Are there any contradictions?

• What statements does my character make about him or herself? What do others say about my character?

• Describe the status of each character in the scene. Does anyone have power over someone else?

Part 2: Create a biographical sketch of your character by answering the following in first person from the character’s perspective:

• Full name and date of birth.

• Where did you grow up? Where do you live now?

• Do you have any siblings?

• Describe your relationship with your parents.

• How did your childhood influence who you are today?

• When you were young, what were your dreams and aspirations? Have these dreams changed over time? If so, how and why?

• Do you have any secrets? If so, what are they?

• What is your best quality? What is your worst quality?

• Describe your sense of humor.

• Do you have any hobbies? If so, what are they? Why do you enjoy them?

• List your favorites: Food, color, music, season.

Part 3: Put the scene on its feet. How can you use stage pictures to communicate the story of the scene? Consider:

• Composition of the onstage images.

• The rhythms of the actors’ movement around the stage.

• The pacing of the dialogue.

• How the actors’ body language and vocal expression reflects the information examined in Parts 1 and 2.

A scene from Ingmar Bergman’s film Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)

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Option A: Choose one of the following quotes from A Little Night Music. Write an essay analyzing the quote’s meaning. Consider:

• Which character said it?

• Does the character mean it literally, or is there an unspoken subtext?

• What does this statement reveal about the character’s way of looking at the world?

• How do the character’s actions support or contradict the quote?

• Do other characters seem to agree or disagree?

• How does the quote contribute to the forward progression of the scene and of the plot as a whole?

“” Everything is unlikely, dear, so don’t let that deter you.

“” Martin Luther says: You cannot prevent the birds from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from nesting in your hair.

“” I’m afraid being young in itself can be a trifle ridiculous. Good has to be so good, bad so bad, such superlatives!

“” A civilized man can tolerate his wife’s infidelity, but when it comes to his mistress, a man becomes a tiger.

“” I shall be polite to your guests. However, they will not be served my best champagne. I am saving that for my funeral.


“” To lose a lover or even a husband or two during the course of one’s life can be vexing. But to lose one’s teeth is a catastrophe.

“” A man’s youth may be as remote as a dinosaur… but with a beautiful woman, youth merely accompanies him through the years.

“” How strange that one’s life should end sitting on a bench in a garden.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITIESOption B: Choose one of the following quotes by Stephen Sondeim and write an essay in which you argue for or against Sondheim’s perspective. Use evidence from musicals both by Sondheim and others to support your opinion.

“” Although one can’t underestimate the importance of songs, it’s the book that the musical theatre is all about, and I’m not being modest.

“” At least half my songs deal with ambivalence, feeling two things at once…I like neurotic people. I like troubled people.

“” I usually write lying down, so I can go to sleep easily. I write about ten minutes and sleep for two, on the average.

“” Obviously the hardest kind of lyric in the world to set is often the best kind to read. Iambic pentameter is wonderful to read and terrible to set. I learned from Oscar and Cole Porter: as you’re writing a lyric, get a rhythm even if you don’t have a tune in your head.

“” We Americans have a special tendency to ignore history. We remember only what is pleasant. We must have a sense of the past. Without it the present is meaningless and stupid.

“” As for humor in lyric writing, it’s always better to be funny than clever — and a lot harder.

“” People mistake sentimentality for feeling. I believe in sentiment but not sentimentality.

“” I believe it’s the writer’s job to educate the audience…to bring them things they would never have expected to see. It’s not easy, but writing never has been.

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