Music/Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Tim McArthur
Reviewer: Ann Bawtree
The Public Reviews Rating:
Billed as “a cabaret celebration of some of the lesser known works of Stephen Sondheim” that is exactly what this show is. A few songs into the programme it is easy to see why most of them, whilst brilliant, are “lesser known”.
Besides being unfashionably tuneful with meaningful words which need careful articulation, many of them have lyrics which are rather obscure in isolation from the shows from which they come, such as “Everybody Loves Louis” from ‘Sunday in the Park with George’.Some, like “Can That Boy Foxtrot” sung by the elegant Valerie Cutko with her air of hauteur and her ballerina arms, contain words which would never be allowed on the BBC. Many require a high standard of acting skill as in “Could I Leave You” sung by Tim McArthur, who also directs the show, along with the duet with Jon-Paul Hevey, “Everybody Wants a Maid”, a piece requiring the quick fire timing they both deliver.
Others have lyrics which are very difficult to sing, as in the tour de force of “The Boy From” expertly performed by Laura Armstrong and is especially witty and charming as the alternative Cinderella in “On the Steps of the Palace”. There are many numbers sung by all four singers, the three above and Lucy Johnson. In these her sweet voice is maybe as not quite as strong as those of the others but she more than makes up for it in the delivery of her solo numbers. . It can also be truly said that the audience heard every word from each singer…Of course all of them have the good luck of being accompanied by David Harvey who plays the on-stage piano, keeping almost out of view except when needed as either conductor or stage prop as in “Sooner or Later”.
The Jermyn Street Theatre is just the right venue for this kind of show. It has indeed become what the visionary Howard Jameson intended, a smart but cosy studio in the West End providing a worthy venue for talented newcomers. It keeps its costs down by being run almost completely by volunteers who are not above doing a spot of cleaning or bar tending as well as taking the big decisions necessary for any kind of successful operation.
The front row of the audience practically rest their feet on the stage but this is part of the pleasure and gives them ample opportunity to admire the careful lighting planning of Howard Hudson. With no curtain to fall entrances and exits often have to occur in darkness. They can also appreciate the details of Fi Russell’s set design, deceptively simple with hanging picture frames above reminding us that, while Tim McArthur has woven the songs into a whole they are individual items. All is brought together by the first and last appearance of the cast though an enormous gilt frame appearing as a family group. Fi is also responsible for the pretty 1950s red and white dresses of Lucy and Laura and that slinky number worn by Valerie.
Altogether a most enjoyable evening in pleasant surroundings which, despite the expertise involved, managed to give the impression of a jolly evening at home with some pretty talented relatives.