Tuesday, 23 March 2021

REVIEW: Celebrating Sondheim at the Chichester Festival Theatre (Online)

Chichester Festival staged this celebration of the music of Stephen Sondheim last November in front of a socially distanced audience, just before another lockdown was announced and streamed it live to those who booked in advance. If you missed it, this encore is a chance to enjoy a selection of songs from shows that the cast have been in or wished they had been in. It is essential viewing for any Sondheim fan.

Our first encounter with his music was in the fabulous Side by Side by Sondheim in May 1976 at the Wyndham Theatre with Julia McKenzie, Millicent Martin, David Keenan and Ned Sherrin in a revue-style show and of course, many shows have been added to his catalogue since then. Daniel Evans has assembled a modern-day equivalent of this talent for his concert and half a dozen of the songs from Side by Side survive the passing 45 years although disappointingly there is nothing from Gypsy, West Side Story or A funny thing happened on the way to the forum. 

They present four songs from Company (1970), the best of which is "The little things you do together" led by the powerful voice of Hannah Waddingham accompanied by some simple choreography from the rest of the company. Two songs from A Little Night Music (1973) including the wonderful "Send in the Clowns" again sung delightfully by Waddingham. Two songs from Follies (1971) make the cut with Jenna Russell beautifully singing the emotional "Losing my minds" and Clive Rowe giving his show-stopping best performance in "Broadway Baby". 

However, it is the brilliant Into the Woods (1987) that provides the best sequence with each of the Company taking one song. It was this musical that embedded my appreciation of his musical style and converted me into a big fan. "Giants in the sky", Gabrielle Brooks, "It takes two", Jenna Russell and Clive Rowe, "Last Midnight", Hannah Waddington, "Running Away", Daniel Evans and "Children will listen", Hannah Waddington, are distinctive and memorable tunes from one of Sondheim's cleverest shows.

It is an unenviable task of selecting twenty-plus tunes from Sondheim vast catalogue and, inevitably, some favourites don't make the cut! It is surprising and disappointing that they give us only one song from another of my favourites Sweeney Todd (1979), with the beautiful moving "Not while I am around " sung by Clive Rowe and only the brilliant title song from Sunday in the park with George (1984) but three tunes from Merrily we roll along (1981) as Russell and Evans had previously played in it. However, one highlight is Clive Rowe's tremendous version of "Not a day goes by" from Merrily we roll along (1981).

The concert is simply staged with a three-piece band under Theo Jamieson on a bare stage with broad washes of colours and occasional projected images of the cast in previous productions. The capture is simple too, almost as if an afterthought, sometimes too dark to see clearly but the sound is good enough to enjoy the performances and the music. So if you like Sondheim, you have a few days to book in to secure a 72-hour window to enjoy as many viewings as you want. If nothing else it will make you yearn to see Clive Rowe, Hannah Waddington and Jenna Russell on stage again live soon and to get into your local theatre for a musical later this year.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Online stream until 25th March | Price of Ticket: £10 plus donation

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