Husband and wife play A Little Night Music

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      Patrick Street Productions’ latest show brings to life Stephen Sondheim’s musical A Little Night Music. Set at the turn of the 20th century in Sweden, the plot follows a sequence of romantic affairs that explore love’s daily elation and struggle. Inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s 1955 film Smiles of a Summer Night, the original 1973 Broadway production received six Tony awards. This production is directed by Patrick Street’s cofounder, Peter Jorgensen, and stars Katey Wright and Warren Kimmel.

      A successful musical is dependent not only on those in the limelight but also on the many talents working off-stage.

      Husband-and-wife team Sean and Jessica Bayntun, musical director and costume designer, respectively, began their partnership with a romance that would tie them both to the world of musical theatre.

      Sean and Jessica Bayntun stand beside one of the 19th-century creations for A Little Night Music.
      Francesca Bianco

      Sean was already working with Patrick Street in 2010 on a production of Bat Boy when Jorgensen asked if he knew anyone who could sew. He did. Jessica was a menswear designer at Lululemon at the time, but promptly quit her job to enter a new chapter as dressmaker. This time, costume design would be her calling card.

      “I didn’t know that costume design was even a thing until Sean got me hired sewing for Bat Boy,” Jessica says. After that 2010 production closed they became engaged, and married a year later. Both Jessica and Sean have been involved with Patrick Street—on and off—ever since.

      Jessica’s collection of costume reference books rivals that of the Vancouver Public Library. For her, costume-building comes after months of historical research, which allows her to create a sartorial suite that rings true to a musical’s era. Perhaps she needs to find a stuffed bird to nest in the lavish brim of a hat, or a froth of lace for an Edwardian corset. Every elaborate element has a rhyme and reason, a testament to her passion for bringing the costumes to life.

      Details of a turn of the century hat made by one of Jessica's team members.
      Francesca Bianco

      “I will research the particular income the characters made; being rich or poor makes a huge difference,” Jessica says. “Also, what area of the world are they from? What materials would have been available, and at what price point?” Over on stage left, Sean’s monumental task was to take Sondheim’s orchestral score and transpose it for an intimate band of six musicians, including himself on piano.

      “This has been a particularly fun challenge. How do I disperse 20 different sounds into six and still keep the essence of everything?” Sean says. “Sondheim’s composing is really exact and the orchestration is so lush. So I’ve just been listening to the music and trying to wrap my head around what textures I can use and what I can pull from.”

      Both Jessica and Sean are moved most by what comes alive between layers of sound and fabric. In designing the costumes, Jessica had to consider the many components 19th-century characters would wear, like petticoats and drawers.

      “It’s nice that the show isn’t modern,” says Jessica. “The layers of clothing are not relatable today and so to dabble in lingerie was exciting to me. It seems silly, but the undergarments are the one thing I love—they are so detailed.”

      Sondheim’s musical brilliance functions beneath the visible, Sean says, continuing his wife’s train of thought.

      “The song will be there, but underneath the surface there are all these little pushes and pulls, rhythmically or harmonically,” Sean says. “For example, a character will say, ‘Soon, I want to.’ But underneath the want is this dissonant note.”

      Sean Bayntun takes a peek at the original Stephen Sondheim score.
      Francesca Bianco

      The pair may be in sync, but the Bayntuns don’t always work together closely during production. For this show, the only thing Jessica says she needs to know from Sean is whether the musicians are ever visible on-stage. The answer is yes, and so Sean will sport a tailcoat.

      When it comes to what message they hope audiences will take away from A Little Night Music, Sean points to Jorgensen’s ability to access the characters’ humanity and honesty.

      “This show is elegant and complicated and filled with people who are trying to figure out their place in the world,” he says. “They are relatable, and you want them to have what they want. It is a message of hope and a positive way of trying to live your own life. Just try to be good and try to be decent.”

      A Little Night Music runs at New Westminster’s Anvil Centre Theatre from Saturday (May 13) to May 21.