Twice this week I have been shocked to the core to be asked by friends ‘who is Stephen Sondheim and why are you so excited about going to see a show about him?’ After berating them gently I explained who Sondheim is and told them to get themselves down to the Brockley Jack Studio for the revival of “Side by Side by Sondheim”
The Brockley has been transformed into a wonderful cabaret bar for this production with the audience sat on three sides and two pianos at the end. Three small chairs and one high one make up the set. The pianos are the workplace for Musical Director and Narrator Stuart Pedlar – who has the distinction of being MD on the original 1976 production of the show – and his equally splendid No 2 Dan Glover. The two of them really put their instruments through their paces delivering the music to an amazing number of Sondheim’s work. Of course, music is important but in order to truly deliver Sondheim’s work, so is singing and our two pianists are matched with the fine vocals of Marianne Benedict, Grant McConvey and Sarah Redmond. All five performers really get into their various songs – solo, duets and trios – adding appropriate emotion and action to really bring out the lyrics and mood of the songs themselves. This was especially true in the Follies Section.
So, what to say. From the opening number ‘Comedy Tonight’ through to the finale ‘Side by Side by Side’ this show is a wonderful romp through Sondheim’s early works. Organised in thematic groups, with some narration between, there are excerpts from Gypsy, Follies, A Little Night Music, and many more. Although the song list only goes up to the early 1970s there are still so many great songs amongst the many performed that it’s difficult to single out any, but I’m going to. My own favourite was the wonderful rendition of ‘Send in the Clowns’ – my own personal Sondheim favourite – which was just superbly delivered by Sarah and had me a bit moist-eyed by the end. I also absolutely loved ‘You Gotta Get a Gimmick’ and ‘Conversation Piece’ both of which really put the singers to the test – especially Grant who was a very classy Burlesque queen – with the range of music covered.
This is a short review because the show is simply amazing to experience. As a homage to Sondheim’s work – both as a composer and a librettist – “Side by Side by Sondheim” cannot be faulted. Even if you don’t know who Stephen Sondheim is – and I still haven’t got over the fact that some people don’t know him – or a not a real fan of musical theatre, “Side by Side by Sondheim” is a night of superb music delivered by five wonderful performers in a lovely intimate setting and is perfect in every way.
Review by Terry Eastham
Side by Side by Sondheim
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
presented by the AC Group
Stephen Sondheim has been the leading composer of musical theatre for the last 50 years.From the streets of ancient Rome, to the high-rise apartments of Manhattan, Sondheim’s songs have a timeless voice.
SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM features hits from legendary Broadway shows such as WEST SIDE STORY, GYPSY & COMPANY, taking you on a journey through their most classic songs including Losing My Mind, Being Alive & Send In The Clowns.
Wednesday 9th to Saturday 26th September at 7.45pm.
The Brockley Jack Studio Theatre