There is something about performing Sondheim, creator of some of the most complicated tunes known to man, that lends itself to simple production. Maybe it is the contrast that works so well but, here in the Warren, hidden behind and almost beneath the shops of Churchill Square, a stage with nine chairs is all we see as a set.
Much in the style of the 70’s Side By Side by Sondheim reviews, where the songs were linked with a common theme, Ray Rackham has devised and directed a show which showcases some of his most famous love songs, together with many of his seldom heard melodies.
Despite the nine chairs on stage, the cast numbers 10, with some performers lounging casually at the front of the stage, creating a cosy atmosphere in which to perform. In this intimate setting, there is no need for the cast to wear microphones as their strong and clear voices can be heard perfectly well over the musical accompaniment, which comes from Joe Bunker on the electric piano.
The show starts with two members of the cast hidden among the audience and, as the music starts, they stand and open with Happiness from the musical Passion. At the end of the song the action switches to the stage, with various performers switching seats or leaving the stage after each number. The songs come thick and fast, some in their entirety, some as truncated versions in medleys, but all delivered faultlessly – despite their complexities.
Marcia Brown is the first to stand out, with her strong voice and superb characterisation, as she performs Can That Boy F... oxtrot?, a song that was dropped from the musical Follies, although heaven knows why, as it both tuneful and humourous.
Always known for his ability to fit more words into a line than seems possible, we soon get to hear Sondheim at his wordy best with a song from his own revue, The Mad Show, The Boy From Tacarembo La Tumbe Del Fuego Santa Malipas Zatatecas La Junta Del Sol Y Cruz. Lowri-Ann Davies takes centre stage for this number and delivers a word perfect treat. She doesn’t even falter when it gets to the last verse and we discover that he is moving away and now plans to make his home in Wales, of course, in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogoerychwyrndrobullllandysiliogogogoch.
Steve Brown and Nova Skipp entertain us with a couple of duets before she takes the stage alone for the dramatic, One More Kiss from Follies, with other notable performances being Martin Dickinson’s I Wish I Could Forget You and Anton Tweedale’s Losing My Mind standing out above the rest.
The full ensemble version of Being Alive from Company was a suitable ending to a very enjoyable evening celebrating the musical genius that is, and will always be, Stephen Sondheim.