Stephen Sondheim's Old Friends

Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends: A Great Big Broadway Show 

They came. They sang. They conquered! There’s really not much more to be said about this spectacular and special evening.  However, the stunning cast, orchestra and crew deserve a little more attention!  

There is an atmosphere of expectation in the theatre.  Everyone is there for the same reason: to celebrate the genius of Stephen Sondheim.  The audience and the cast are united in their love of a composer and lyricist, whose brilliance was not always noticed by the general public. And we are not disappointed.  

The night opens with words from Sunday in the Park with George: ‘Order. Design. Composition. Tone. Form. Symmetry. Balance.’ But instead of seeing George’s painting, the graphics depict Sondheim’s compositions and lyrics. And from that moment, the cast, led by the incomparable Bernadette Peters and Lea Salonga, bring to life the artistry of Sondheim’s varied career.  

It's hard to pick out a stand-out moment – there are so many.  The comedy of Everybody Ought to Have a Maid or The Boy From…’, to the pathos of ‘Send in the Clowns’ or ‘Losing my Mind’.  Each brings us a flavour of the ridiculous versatility of Sondheim.  How can the same composer bring us the lightness and cynicism of The Little Things You Do Together and also the darkness of The Ballad of Sweeny Todd? Incidentally, seeing Lea Salonga as Mrs Lovett is quite a treat!  

The genius of the production is really in the interpretation of some of the songs.  Sondheim was really ahead of his time and there are still new ways of performing his songs so that they remain relevant for new audiences.  Could I Leave You? is sung from a gay point of view and it works.  Everybody Ought to Have a Maid sees the men as the maids and it works.  And then there are the transitions.  We are crying with laughter at The Boy From… (sung to perfection by Janie Dee) in one moment and then Bernadette Peters brings such a stillness with Losing My Mind the next.   

There are some amazing orchestrations from the pen of Stephen Metcalf, expertly conducted by Alfonso Casado Trigo.  The arrangement of Tonight, combining several of the songs from West Side Story, deserves a particular mention.  

Also worthy of a mention is Clare Burt who joined the cast as a last-minute replacement for Hayden Gwynne who, sadly had to pull out for personal reasons.  Burt’s professionalism enables her to slot in as though she has been there from the beginning of rehearsals.  

Emotions are high in the theatre as, towards the end, we watch video footage of Sondheim and the entire cast sings their tribute to their Old Friend, with the words of Not a Day Goes By.  We are on our feet, even before the bows as we know too, that Side by Side, we have shared with old friends, celebrating the genius of one Stephen Sondheim.  

This show was reviewed on the 29th September 2023.  Stephen Sondheim's Old Friends runs at the Gielgud Theatre until the 6th January 2024.  Tickets available here: Delfont Mackintosh Theatres

Review written by Ian Worsfold & Paul Wood

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Photo credit: Danny Kaan

 

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