The answer is in the title: Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece of relationships quite simply follows Bobby through a series of funny and relevant vignettes as he examines the lives of his married friends.
But despite being written in the 70s, the piece explores what it means to be human, and therefore has not dated. Bobby is always the baby, rarely the man, and feels the vacuum in his own life, finally connecting with his loneliness and entering the danger zone, admitting that he needs another human being – with the end of the show offering his new beginning.
Derby’s new production offers an ensemble which, on the whole, trusts the material – but to be fair, Sondheim’s jaunty lyrics and score, and George Furth’s witty and poignant book, are strong enough to withstand much misguided experimenting.
However, this production does suffer horribly from some of the worst musical staging I’ve ever seen, courtesy of choreographer Caimin Collins, particularly in “Another Hundred People”, which was so ‘dance by numbers’ it resembles a primary school music and movement class. That said, act two’s opening showstopper “Side By Side” is harder to completely ruin and pleased the capacity audience on the night I saw it.
The set, designed by Steven Richardson, offers the trappings and lines of a Manhattan skyline and is used to good effect, but this is not enough to detract from the overall ineptitude of the direction and choreography.
Glenn Carter’s Bobby is thoughtful and intelligent but relies on the adjective rather than the emotion; and in all three of his solo numbers he appears lost and uncomfortable. Liz Robertson’s alcoholic Joanne is reduced to a middle-aged slut rather than the being the sage of the piece who finally pushes Bobby into adulthood.
And with Bobby’s sassy threesome of girlfriends (Sophie Caton, Sarah Annis, Laura Sanchez) we are into the early Sex and the City generation, but much of the characterisation is forced and obvious, relying heavily on the tried and tested brilliance of the numbers to see it through.
There is some solid work from the couples in the ensemble, who manage to portray convincing relationships, particularly from Craig Purnell and Melissa Jacques, literally wrestling with their problems, and Michael Cahill and Annette Yeo, happier separated yet still living together.
Needing to be loved, and to love, is a theme of epic proportions, and the audience should be ambushed into appreciating what they do have….or don’t, from behind the cloak of American musical theatre. But this production lacks overall cohesion and basic understanding from director Karen Hebden, and as with any company in trouble, you look to the top to find the reasons why.
- Elizabeth Ferrie