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Celebrating Sondheim – Chichester Festival Theatre | Review

The problem, if I can call it that, with a concert of this nature is that there are inevitably going to be songs in a show called ‘Celebrating Sondheim’ that people love that aren’t there. Despite, for instance, the Chichester Festival Theatre’s 2014 production of Gypsy, there was nothing from that show. Fans of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum may feel a little left out, as well as those who like Assassins and Passion. A modified version of the ‘Invocation and Instructions to the Audience’ from The Frogs served as a wry reminder of the somewhat less appealing elements of the live theatre experience. “Please don’t cough” was a very appropriate lyric for our times, as was one of the final numbers, ‘With So Little To Be Sure Of’ from Anyone Can Whistle.

Celebrating Sondheim at Chichester Festival Theatre Daniel Evans, Gabrielle Brooks, Hannah Waddingham, Clive Rowe, Jenna Russell
Celebrating Sondheim at Chichester Festival Theatre
Daniel Evans, Gabrielle Brooks, Hannah Waddingham, Clive Rowe, Jenna Russell

There was some conversation to be had, and some still images of the likes of Jenna Russell and the Chichester Festival Theatre’s artistic director Daniel Evans in previous productions of Sondheim musicals, but for the most part the music does the talking (or rather, the singing). And why not? The dense lyrics of some Stephen Sondheim numbers gave the audience plenty of narrative in their own right.

A small, on-stage band of just three is more than sufficiently socially distanced on the relatively vast Festival Theatre stage. Clive Rowe’s rendering of ‘Sorry-Grateful’ from Company was particularly heartfelt, as indeed was his version of ‘Broadway Baby’ from Follies. Hannah Waddingham reprised her Witch in Into The Woods with a spine-tingling ‘Children Will Listen’. Completing the cast was Gabrielle Brooks, who had previously wowed Chichester audiences during the August Bank Holiday in 2020 for their ‘Concert in the Park’.

It was evident that the cast, band and crew had copious amounts of fun making this concert happen, though its relative brevity (those pesky Covid restrictions discouraging an interval) meant it was, especially for Sondheim fans and followers, too short. But as ever, it is better to leave the audience wanting more than to outstay one’s welcome, and this is a good opportunity to see something performed in front of a live audience during the pandemic.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Encore stream, Monday 22 March at 7pm and on demand until Thursday 25 March
This dazzling cornucopia of music and song – staged last autumn to celebrate musical legend Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday year – saw CFT Artistic Director Daniel Evans joined on the Festival Theatre stage by stars from the West End to perform numbers from some of Sondheim’s major and lesser-known works. This encore streaming is broadcast on the composer’s 91st birthday.

Gabrielle Brooks wowed audiences at CFT’s Concert in the Park whilst Clive Rowe was last seen in Chichester in Me and My Girl. Jenna Russell starred opposite Daniel Evans in Sunday in the Park with George in London and on Broadway, for which they both won Olivier Awards. Hannah Waddingham made a welcome return following Kiss Me, Kate (2012).
Booking for all events is now open:
cft.org.uk 01243 781312


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