Producing its first musical since "Babes in Arms" in spring 2008, the Department of Theater & Dance and Associate Professor of Theater Davis Robinson were eager to take on one of composer and lyricist Steven Sondheim's most esteemed works, "A Little Night Music."

"I like to do a musical every few years because it's a great way to put together what we do here with music, dance, theater and design," said Robinson.

"The last one we did was a fun American musical, very jazzy—[but] Sondheim is a really challenging composer to work with. He writes such witty, sophisticated lyrics with such complicated rhythmic melodic patterns that it's a really great learning opportunity for students," said Robinson. "I didn't want to start with Sondheim because I didn't want to scare people off, but I felt like we were ready to do one now."

Set in late 19th century Sweden on a winter night, "A Little Night Music" is a tale of passions, confusion, and what Robinson described as "grabbing for elusive dreams" and "romantic pain and suffering"—a subject matter 21st century college students can relate to.

It tells the story of a successful lawyer, Frederick, and his unhappy marriage to his young wife, Anne. Frederick's renewed interest in an old flame, Desiree, is the catalyst for the development of the story, in which love, passion, jealousy and dreams develop and reach fervent heights.

The plot is anchored by the liebesleider, a group of five actors, that according to Robinson, "seamlessly go in and out of the storyline as a part of the storyline."

The liebesleider introduce and reintroduce Sondheim's score apart from the larger numbers in the work, acting as a kind of Greek chorus with developed individual characterizations.

"Our identities are fluid: Sometimes we serve as actors in Desiree's troupe and other times as servants in the different households," said Lianna Bessette '13.

"We're the lower class judging the foolish nobility in a sort of one-sided conversation with the audience," she said. "It's fun and unique to have this sort of relationship with the audience."

Originally based on a book by Hugh Wheeler, "A Little Night Music" was first adapted into the 1955 Ingmar Bergman film, "Smiles of a Summer Night." Sondheim's musical adaptation was first performed on Broadway in 1973 and has resurfaced with a 2009 revival. Bowdoin's production is ultimately a part of the celebration of Sondheim's 80th birthday and his invaluable contributions to American musical theater.

In order to cast this show, considering its challenging score and multiple complex character relationships, Robinson began auditions late last spring.

Actors who made their Bowdoin musical debut as first years in "Babes in Arms" including Khalil LeSaldo '11 and Devlin Cole '11 are going full circle in their participation in "A Little Night Music." Robinson was confident about the talent pool available at Bowdoin, both with active participants in theater at Bowdoin, and singers and dancers in other organizations on campus.

"The other thing I like about doing such a lyrical show are the pleasant surprises you find when casting," said Robinson. "Josh Magno ['11], who I got to know in physical theater class, has a great presence and precision of gesture I wanted to work with."

"Turns out he, too, has a lovely singing voice, as does Lianna and the other liebeslieder, who get to showcase all their skills now to the whole community," Robinson continued. "They really provide the poetry in the show. Not to mention Khalil and Jill, who many on campus know from other theater productions, but few knew what singer-actors they can be."

Jill Eddy '12, who plays the glamorous Desiree, feels that the heighted passions and romantic confusion intrinsic to the plot gave actors a subject they could relate to.

"It's a play with a lot of undertones that I think a college audience can relate to and understand the complications that arises in these sort of partnerships, and with love," said Eddy.

Robinson feels that the show will unite parts of the Bowdoin community, as musicals tend to do by attracting an audience that might not necessarily participate in theater. The performances will also bring Brunswick community members to campus, specifically through the help of the Association of Bowdoin Friends.

Staging the first musical at Bowdoin in three years, Robinson seeks to broaden people's awareness of the artistic value of the musical.

"Our mission as a school is to educate," said Robinson, "and one of the great contributions that this country has made to theater is the American musical art form."

The musical performed last night in Pickard Theater at 8 p.m. It will also run tonight and tomorrow night at the same time. Seating is free to the general public. Tickets can be picked up at the Smith Union info desk. Seating expires 15 minutes prior to the show, so plan on arriving at the theater before 7:45 p.m.