The Venue, London • 16 June 2007 • 8pm
Music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. With additional music by Leonard Bernstein, Mary Rodgers, Richard Rodgers & Jule Styne. Narration written by Ned Sherrin.
Director: Hannah Chissick. Associate Director and Choreographer: Adam Cooper. Musical Director: Michael Haslam. With Angela Rippon (Narrator), Alasdair Harvey, Josie Walker, Abbie Osmon.
I had never seen this 1976 Sondheim “compilation” show, a predecessor of Putting It Together and Marry Me a Little. I usually find that Sondheim songs do not “live” happily outside of their original habitat, but when the show is as expertly done as this production of Side By Side By Sondheim, the pleasure can be immense.
Beside the obvious cabaret chestnuts like “The Boy From…” and “I Never Do Anything Twice,” the show features a selection of songs mostly taken from shows written before 1976, although a song from Pacific Overtures has been added.
This production demonstrates that you can create memorable shows with two pianos, three singers and virtually no set. The two-piano arrangements (presumably by Musical Director Michael Haslam) are to die for. And the cast never ceases to amaze, in all the diversity of Sondheim’s style.
Director Hannah Chissick’s staging is full of invention and wit and is admirably complemented by Adam Cooper’s choreography. Some of the numbers actually come across better than any other staging I’ve seen.
There are interesting twists when the songs call for three men (“Pretty Lady”) or three women (“You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” “You Gotta Have a Gimmick”). It was also the first time I’d heard a man sing “Could I Leave You?” It certainly does show the song in a different light.
It’s a shame this production is closing early, because it is hugely successful entertainment.