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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Side By Side By Sondheim
The Venue       Summer 2007

This 1976 salute to Stephen Sondheim was one of the first of the compilation musicals, but it is as far from Mamma Mia or We Will Rock You as you can get.

While a narrator sits at one side of the stage and reads biographical or anecdotal links, three singers (2 f, 1 m), backed by two pianos, simply take turns performing some of the best theatre songs of the last half-century.

Actually, although there have been two or three further Sondheim compilation shows since, no attempt has been made to update this revival, so what we get is a salute to the first 20 years of Sondheim's career as composer and lyricist.

There's nothing from Sweeney Todd, Into The Woods, Sunday In The Park, Passion or any other post-1976 scores.

But what there is is West Side Story, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music and others - and you can't do too much better than that.

The three singers here are solid professionals who are not big names yet, though that may change, since this anthology provides a marvellous showcase for their talents, and you may want to take note of the namesof Alasdair Harvey, Josie Walker and Abbie Osmon.

They all prove equally adept in solos and combinations, in comic songs and serious ones. Walker zips through Getting Married Today, the tongue-twisting patter song from Company, with comic aplomb, she and Osmon make it hilariously clear what the euphemism is in Can That Boy Foxtrot, and Harvey bounces through a frenetic Buddy's Blues.

But the real high points of the evening come in the dramatic songs, which director Hannah Chissick has guided the singers into turning into three-minute playlets of startling emotional power.

There's no surprise that Abbie Osmon can break your heart with the blues of Losing My Mind, but she also finds the hints of pathos in the upbeat Another Hundred People.

Alasdair Harvey mines all the bitterness in Could I Leave You and all the sweetness in I Remember Sky, while Josie Walker simply and wisely gets out of the way of Send In The Clowns and lets it work, while the two women's Boy Like That duet from West Side Story rises to operatic heights.

The role of narrator is being taken in weekly rotation by Christopher Cazenove, Barry Cryer, Les Dennis and Angela Rippen. I watched the old master Cryer effortlessly put the audience in his pocket within seconds and keep them there with his charm and unobtrusive ad libs. Equally solid and unobtrusive is the piano support from Michael Haslam and Dean Austin.

And for once a salute to sound designers Scott George and Nick Lidster. The singers are miked, of course, but so sparely and subtly that much of the time what you are hearing is actual human voices - and what a delight that is!

You don't have to be a Sondheim queen to enjoy this show. You just have to appreciate really great theatre songs performed beautifully. And that's what you get here.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Side By Side By Sondheim - The Venue 2007