Side by Side by Sondheim

Date 27th June 2019
Society York Light Opera Company
Venue Theatre Royal, York Studio
Director Fiona Baistow
Musical Director John Atkin

Report

Author: Terry Harrison

It’s so long since I have seen a revue of this type that I had almost forgotten what a delight such a show can be.  A cast of six, a pianist, a narrator and the audience of around a hundred close to the action on three sides combine to provide a memorable evening.  And that’s before we add the wit of Sondheim’s lyrics and, in many cases, his music too.

This concept of a mixture of his songs was first produced in 1976 and so there is none of his work from after that date (i.e. “Sweeney Todd” and later) but there is certainly more than enough to be going on with.  His collaborations with Bernstein and Jule Styne allow us to appreciate familiar songs from “West Side Story” and “Gypsy” but some of his less well-known songs might also be considered highlights.  Few of us will have come across some rather cheeky songs, “I never do anything twice” from the film “The 7per cent solution” or “Can that boy foxtrot”, a duet originally written for “Follies” but subsequently cut.

Kirsten Griffiths brought us back to more familiar ground with good performances of “Send in the Clowns” and “Broadway Baby”, whilst Pascha Turnbull delivered a rather tongue-twisting tribute to her paramour in “The Boy from…”, only to find that he had moved from one somewhat exotic-sounding location to another, namely that almost unpronounceable place in North Wales.  Richard Bayton gave us a number of songs written for male characters, “Anyone can whistle” being particularly enjoyable, before embarking in a little gender-swapping to join two of the ladies in “Gotta get a gimmick”.   Jonny Holbek also joined in the fun with nods and winks where appropriate in songs such as “You must meet my wife”.  Alexa Chaplin made a number of excellent contributions to the programme, including the rapid-fire patter song “Getting Married Today”, one of several items from “Company”, whilst her duet with the sixth member of the cast, Emma-Louise Dickinson, in  Bernstein’s “A boy like that/I have a love” was another highlight.   The latter gave us a number of fine performances in varied styles but especially memorable was her version of “Losing my mind”, showing all the emotion which the song requires, beginning quietly, whilst sitting on a stool and then her delivery building with great skill to a more rousing conclusion.   

The whole thing was held together by Geoff Turner’s narration, adding a few words of his own to Ned Sherrin’s original script and, key to it all, John Atkin at the piano. I enjoyed hearing strong and confident harmonies in the ensemble numbers, whilst the Director’s contribution with clever but not overdone moves around the stage also added to the enjoyment. Watching at such close quarters, the audience can detect every facial expression or raising of an eyebrow and, again, these were subtle but essential in order to extract every possible piece of meaning and, in many cases, humour from the songs.      

This was a production which proved that simple concentration on the skill of the lyricist, without becoming bogged down in a plot, together with the expertise of a handful of performers in intimate surroundings can combine to provide entertainment of the highest standard.