Yesterday's director, Craig Revel Horwood, went down the semi-staged route of the recent ENO Sweeney Todd, with proper costumes, an onstage orchestra (the City of London Philharmonic) conducted by Gareth Valentine, some neat choreography by Andrew Wright and four large golden mirror frames that rotated and, at one point, formed a glittering box for the two pairs of married miseries at the musical's heart.
This quartet of emotional misfits, tracing the history of their lives and loves together while shadowed by their younger selves 30 years earlier, were richly cast and sung by Christine Baranski (a genuine Broadway A-lister), Alexander Hanson, Ruthie Henshall and Peter Polycarpou.
'It makes you long to see the finished article'
They were all fine, much better than some of the small part contributors of big songs – Russell Watson, for instance, who made a dog's dinner of his "Beautiful Girls" intro, or Lorna Luft, whose "Broadway Baby" took some wrong decisions of emphasis and expired in a clumsy finale with Roy Hudd and Anita Harris; having discharged "Rain on the Roof", this toothsome twosome butted in to muddy the harmonics of the last verse and ruin the song's meaning.
Perhaps the sound system was adjusted for the evening show, but the afternoon was acoustically dire, many words incomprehensible and a tinny edge to the ensemble numbers. Betty Buckley half-raised the roof with "I'm Still Here" but, again, the item needs much more defiance and valour and it's hard to hear anyone do this if you've heard Elaine Stritch.
Highlights for me were Hanson and Henshall singing the beautiful "Too Many Mornings," Laura Pitt-Pulford and Alistair Brammer switching on the rhythmic engine of "You're Gonna Love Tomorrow" and Anita Dobson, having learned to tap-dance especially for the occasion, leading the line in "Who's That Woman?"
Mike Ockrent's 1987 production was totally wonderful, plus it had Diana Rigg, Daniel Massey and Julia McKenzie (claiming "Broadway Baby" as of right). The semi-staged version is unsatisfactory as it makes you long to see the finished article. And if yesterday's event hurries that along, it will not have been cobbled together in vain. It would cost somebody a fortune, though, and Sondheim is so rarely big box office. Perhaps Rufus Norris should have a go?