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", leading into the first "Night Waltz". The other characters enter waltzing, each uncomfortable with their particular partner. After they drift back off, the aging and severe Madame Armfeldt 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 Fredrik Egerman is a successful lawyer. He has recently married an 18-year-old trophy wife, Anne, a vain girl who is in love with Fredrik, but too immature to grasp the concept of marriage. The two have been married for eleven months, but Anne still protects her virginity. Fredrik laments his inability to make love to his wife ("Now"). Meanwhile, his son Henrik, a year older than his stepmother, is feeling extremely frustrated. He is a seminary student and everyone is always teasing him, never taking him seriously or letting him talk ("Later"). Anne is intrigued by him, but fails to understand his real meaning. Anne promises her husband that shortly she will consent to have sex ("Soon"). Anne's maidservant Petra, an experienced and forthright girl, slightly older than the teen herself, offers her worldly but crass advice.
Desiree Armfeldt is a prominent and glamorous actress who is now reduced to touring in small towns. Madame Armfeldt, Desiree's mother, has taken over the care of Desiree's daughter Fredrika. Fredrika misses her mother, but Desiree continually delays going to see her, preferring, somewhat ironically, "The Glamorous Life". She is performing near Fredrik's home, and he brings Anne to see the play. While there, Desiree notices Fredrik; the two had been lovers years earlier. Anne, suspicious and annoyed because of Desiree's amorous glances, demands that Fredrik take her home immediately. Meanwhile, Petra has been trying to seduce Henrik.
That night, as Fredrik remembers his past with Desiree, he sneaks out to see her; the two share a happy but strained reunion, as they "Remember". They reflect on their new lives, and Fredrik tries to explain how much he loves Anne ("You Must Meet My Wife"). Desiree responds sarcastically, boasting of her own adultery, as she has been seeing the married dragoon, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm. Upon learning that Fredrik has gone for eleven months without sex, she agrees to accommodate him as a favor for an old friend.
Madame Armfeldt offers advice to young Fredrika. The elderly woman reflects poignantly on her own checkered past, and wonders what happened to her refined "Liaisons". Back in Desiree's apartment, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm proclaims his unannounced arrival in his typical booming voice. Fredrik and Desiree fool the gullible Count into believing that their disheveled appearance was entirely innocent, but he is still suspicious. He instantly dislikes Fredrik and returns to his wife, Countess Charlotte. Charlotte is quite aware 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, who is talking with Petra. Charlotte describes Fredrik's meeting with Desiree; Anne reacts with shock and horror. The older woman explains to Anne that such is the lot of a wife, and that marriage brings pain ("Every Day A Little Death"). Meanwhile, Desiree asks Madame Armfeldt to host a party for Fredrik, Anne and Henrik. Though reluctant, Madame Armfeldt agrees. She sends out a personal invitation; its receipt sends the women into a frenzy, imagining "A Weekend in the Country". Anne does not want to accept the invitation, but Charlotte convinces her to do so to heighten the contrast between the older woman and the young teenager. Meanwhile, the Count has plans of his own—as a birthday present to his wife, the pair will attend the party uninvited. 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 day of the party dawns.
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 carrying their own amorous purposes and desires—even Petra, who catches the eye of Armfeldt's fetching manservant, Frid. The women begin to act against each other. Fredrik is astonished to learn the name of Desiree's daughter. Henrik meets Fredrika, and confesses his deep love for Anne to her. Meanwhile, in the garden, Fredrik and Carl-Magnus reflect on how difficult it is to be annoyed with Desiree, agreeing "It Would Have Been Wonderful" had she not been quite so wonderful. Dinner is served, and the characters' "Perpetual Anticipation" enlivens that meal.
At dinner, Charlotte attempts to flirt with Fredrik, while Anne and Desiree trade insults. Soon, everyone is shouting and scolding everyone else, except for Henrik, who finally stands up for himself. He shrieks at them for being completely 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 only as a dream. Hurt and bitter, Desiree can only reflect on the nature of her life ("Send in the Clowns"). Anne finds Henrik, who is attempting to commit suicide. The clumsy boy cannot complete the task, and Anne tells him that she has feelings for 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 thinks of the joy and freedom that she longs for before becoming trapped in marriage ("The Miller's Son"). Henrik and Anne, happy together, run away to start their new life. However, Carl-Magnus is enraged by this and attempts to shoot the lovers, but Desiree and Charlotte prevent him, while lamenting both the pains of marriage and the strange behavior of married people ("The World Won't End/Every Day a Little Death (reprise)"). With Carl-Magnus calmed, Charlotte confesses her plan to Fredrik, and the two commiserate on a bench. Carl-Magnus, preparing to romance Desiree, sees this and challenges Fredrik to Russian Roulette, at which a nervous Fredrik misfires and simply grazes his own ear. Victorious, Carl-Magnus begins to romance Charlotte, granting her wish at last.
After the Count and Countess leave, Fredrika and Madame Armfeldt discuss the chaos of the recent turns-of-events. The elderly woman then asks Fredrika a surprising question: "What is it all for?" Fredrika thinks about this, and decides that it "must be worth it". Madame 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, acknowledges that Fredrika is his daughter, and the two promise to start a new life together ("Finale"). Armfeldt sits alone with Fredrika. Fredrika tells her grandmother that she has watched carefully, but still has not seen the night smile. 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 happens: Madame Armfeldt closes her eyes, and dies peacefully with Fredrika beside her.Additional musical numbers
Stage:"Two Fairy Tales" – Henrik and Anne (cut for time)
"Silly People" – Frid (cut for time)
"Bang!" – Carl-Magnus (replaced by "In Praise of Women")
"My Husband the Pig" – Charlotte (replaced by the second half of "In Praise of Women")
Screen:"Love Takes Time" – Company (lyrics added to Night Waltz)
"The Glamorous Life" – Fredrika (solo version)
Fredrik Egerman: A successful widowed middle-aged lawyer. He is married to the 18-year-old Anne and has one son from his previous marriage, Henrik.
Anne Egerman: Fredrik's new, naive wife.
Henrik Egerman: Fredrik's son, 20 years old and Anne's stepson. He is serious but confused; he reads the works of philosophers and theologians whilst studying for the Lutheran priesthood.
Petra: Anne's maid and closest confidante.
Desiree Armfeldt: Self-absorbed, once-successful actress, now touring the country-side in what is clearly not the "glamorous life".
Fredrika Armfeldt: Desiree's thirteen-year-old daughter, who may or may not be the product (unbeknownst to Fredrik) of the actress's and Fredrik's affair.
Madame Armfeldt: Desiree's mother, who has had "liaisons" with royalty.
Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm: A military dragoon who is Desiree's latest lover.
Charlotte Malcolm: Carl-Magnus' wife.
Frid: Madame Armfeldt's manservant.
The Quintet: Mr. Lindquist, Mrs. Nordstrom, Mrs. Anderssen, Mr. Erlanson and Mrs. Segstrom. A group of five singers that act as a Greek chorus. Sometimes referred to as the Liebeslieder Singers although Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler did not script them to have that title, using Quintet instead. The first usage of Liebeslieders for the Quintet came during the 1990 New York Opera production. Prince said that these characters represent "people in the show who aren't wasting time ... the play is about wasting time."
Malla: Desiree's maid, who is with her constantly. (silent part)
Osa: Maid at Madame Armfeldt's manse. (silent part)
Bertrand: Page at Madame Armfeldt's manse. (silent part)
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.
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.
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.
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 Fredrick, and Susan Hampshire. The production ran for 144 performances, closing on February 17, 1990.
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.
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 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 (Mme. Armfeldt), Alistair Robins (the Count), Gabriel Vick (Henrik), Grace Link and Holly Hallam (shared role Fredrika) and Kasia Hammarlund (Petra). This critically acclaimed 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. The production then transferred to Broadway with a new cast.
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 starred Angela Lansbury as Madame Armfeldt and, in her Broadway debut, Catherine Zeta-Jones as Desiree. Also featured were Alexander Hanson as Frederik, 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 was recognized as Best Leading Actress in a Musical at the 64th Tony Awards.
When the contracts of Zeta-Jones and Lansbury ended, the production temporarily closed on June 20, 2010 and resumed on July 13, with new stars Bernadette Peters as Desiree Armfeldt and Elaine Stritch as Madame Armfeldt. 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." Trevor Nunn directed rehearsals with the two new stars, and the rest of the original cast remained. Peters and Stritch extended their contracts until January 9, 2011, when the production closed with 20 previews and 425 regular performances. Before the production closed, it recouped its initial investment.
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), performing "Send In The Clowns" and "Liaisons" in both stagings. 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.
The Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris production ran from February 15, 2010 through February 20, 2010. Lee Blakeley directed and Andrew George was the choreographer. Italian-born actress Greta Scacchi played Désirée, and Leslie Caron played Madame Armfeldt.
The Turku City Theatre staged the musical in 2011 with Kirsi Tarvainen in the role as Désirée. Tuomas Parkkinen directed and Jussi Vahvaselkä was musical director.
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, IL) 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. The cast included both stage performers: Sally Ann Howes and George Lee Andrews as Desiree and Frederick and opera regular Regina Resnik as Madame Armfeldt (in 1991). The 2003 production featured a young Anna Kendrick as Fredrika Armfeldt, alongside Jeremy Irons as Frederick, Juliet Stevenson as Desiree, Claire Bloom as Madame Armfeldt, Danny Gurwin as Henrik, Michelle Pawk as Charlotte, and Marc Kudisch as Carl-Magnus.
Opera Australia presented the piece in Melbourne in May 2009, starring Sigrid Thornton as Desiree Armfeldt and Nacye 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. Opera Theatre of Saint Louis performed the musical in June 2010. Designer Isaac Mizrahi directed and designed the production, with a cast that starred Amy Irving, Siân Phillips and Ron Raines.
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.
A film version of A Little Night Music was released in 1977, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Lesley-Anne Down and Diana Rigg, with Len Cariou, Hermione Gingold and Laurence Guittard reprising their Broadway roles. The setting for the film was moved from Sweden to Austria. Stephen 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 Broadway director Hal Prince's second 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. Some critics talked more positively of the film, with Variety calling it "an elegant looking, period romantic charade". 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.
The score for A Little Night Music has elements not often found in musical theater, presenting challenges for performers, with complex meters, pitch changes, polyphony, and high notes for both males and females. The difficulty is heightened when songs merge, as in "Now"/"Later"/"Soon", because all three have to be performed in the same key, limiting the ability to pick a comfortable key for each singer. 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."
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.
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.
Virtually all of the music in the show is written in waltz time (3/4). Some parts adopt compound meter, with a time signature such as 12/8. Passages in "Overture", "Glamorous Life", "Liaisons", and "The Miller's Son" are in duple meter.
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." Steve Swayne comments that the "contrapuntal episodes in the extended ensembles... stand as testament to his interest in Counterpoint."
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. 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") 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. "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."
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."
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."
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 for strings in G major, 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 (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.
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.
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.
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".
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."
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."
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."
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..."
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 cliched 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 facade with a nakedly honest, tears-on-cheek 'Send in the Clowns.'"