This rich and varied show focusing on the talents of Stephen Sondheim is filled with warmth and humour that doesn’t fail to win you over as the evening progresses.
Narrated by Musical Director Stuart Pedlar, the evening is also fascinating with the numerous antidotes about Sondheim and the shows that he was involved with creatively. It seems appropriate for Pedlar to narrate the evening as he has had long experience with both this show when it originally appeared in the West End and other Stephen Sondheim works.
Side by Side by Sondheim concentrates on music and lyrics from musicals such as Gypsy, Company, Follies and Anyone Can Whistle. There is a great balance between ballads such as ‘Send in the Clowns’ and light hearted numbers for example ‘Getting Married Today’, showing how Sondheim’s music doesn’t stick to one particular style and his willingness to experiment with different sounds.
But the key to any Sondheim song is the way in which they are performed and this is vital in making Side by Side successful. Thankfully, the cast really understand this well – making the most of every line in the song to great effect.
Marianne Benedict uses her vocal range to really create a character for the song, helping the audience really feel involved with the performance. This particularly comes through on ‘I Have a Love’ and ‘The Little Things You Do Together’.
Meanwhile Sarah Redmond, who has replaced Su Pollard due to a suddenindisposition, provides great comedy in her performances such as ‘Getting Married Today’ and ‘You Gotta Get a Gimmick’ that really puts a smile on the audience’s face. Her vocals are equally as strong, but perhaps don’t carry as much emotion as Benedict does.
Grant McConvey is more than capable in support, but it sounds as though in places his vocals are slightly forced. Yet he shows a great understanding for the way in which the songs should be performed such as during ‘You Must Meet My Wife’ and ‘Could I Leave You?’
Of course, the performances are enhanced by the wonderful choreography by Anthony Whiteman that brings out the sense of humour that comes through Sondheim’s songs.
But it feels as though in the second act, the show loses the same pace and energy that it has in the first and so begins to feel as if the show is beingdragged out slightly. This could be down to the number of songs that have been selected for the show and can be overwhelming in choice that it is one area that could be cut down perhaps.
However, the song selection is solid and the show flows from one song to the next with great ease – making the show very relaxed and enjoyable to watch. It is great to hear a combination of familiar songs alongside those which the audience may not have been aware of, making it a fully rounded production.
It is a fun-filled show with plenty to offer those familiar with Sondheim’s work or those who are discovering his work for the very first time.
Review by Emma Clarendon