Review – Side by Side by Sondheim, The Venue, Leicester Square, London

Tuesday 1 May 2007

Side by Side by SongheimIt was all very side by side for the Whingers last night.

Seated in the front row with Andrew and Phil to see Side by Side by Sondheim at The Venue were novice Whinger and self-confessed Sondheim groupie Michael with the now quite experienced would-be whinger Sharon.

Seated (symbolically?) one row behind was Phil’s sometime stand-in and wannabe, Agency Phil who often attends the theatre with Andrew when the real Phil is not available.

Thankfully, Andrew’s theory that if both Phils were to turn up in the same place that the universe would implode on itself turned out to be incorrect.

SBSBS – or “Sondheim 101”, or “Sondheim For People Who Don’t Really Care Much For Sondheim” or “Sondheim – But With Tunes” – is of course the now famous review of Stephen Sondheim‘s acclaimed musicals up to 1976.

But with the Whingers (poised to write in the A3 sized notebooks with their glow-in-the dark pens with flashing fluffy gonks on the top) and motley entourage at such close range, what effect would it have on the performers?

Unfortunately in the case of guest narrator Christopher Cazenove, considerable.

Perhaps due to nerves, his reading of Ned Sherrin’s slightly updated script had more stumbles than Dancing on Ice. Sherrin’s gags were completely lost with his faltering delivery, and when he perched himself ungracefully on a stool, legs akimbo, Phil wasn’t sure where to look. He certainly had balls to go on that under-rehearsed. Hopefully the other guest narrators Barry Cryer, Les Dennis and Angela Rippon will be more familiar with the script when they take over.

It has to be said that it was a shaky start all round. The three singing performers – Alasdair Harvey, Abbie Osmon and Josie Walker – seemed overly anxious to please. The combination of this, Adam Cooper‘s perfunctory (yet strangely redundant) choreography and and the black & chrome set gave more than a whiff of cruise ship to the whole enterprise; the only thing missing – and thank heavens for that – was Jane McDonald.

The Whingers would have been heading for the lifeboats within a very few minutes but happily things picked up considerably.

All three singers proved to have fine voices and both women shone superbly in the ultra-tricky “Getting Married Today” from Company.

Josie Walker was a standout. Her comedy number “I Never Do Anything Twice” (a lesson the Whingers should learn) from The Seven-Per-Cent Solution was well-executed and for a bit of frisson she combed the front row for a red-blooded male to flirt with. With growing anxiety in her eyes she looked along the row – if the theatre had burnt down there wouldn’t have been many grieving widows, that’s for sure. Her eyes passed straight across Phil and settled – naturally enough – on Andrew.

Although several decades too young, she did more than justice to the Follies standard “I’m Still Here” and earned the somewhat poisoned chalice of being someone the Whingers will be watching closely in the future. Josie, you have been warned.

During the customary interval palliatives, eagle-eyed Sharon confessed to having been bothered throughout the first half by the dress zip toggle which hung beneath Ms Walker’s arm. Unfortunately, having had this pointed out, all five members of the party could focus on little else for the remainder of the show.

Other highlights included an almost medically indecent view of Ms Osmon’s tonsils in “Broadway Baby”, the luxury of two pianists (each with a grand piano) and a very amusingly played “The Boy From…”

Unfortunately Phil missed most of this as – having finally succeeded in drawing his eyes away from the zip toggle, he was furiously scribbling corrections in the rather sloppy programme (£3).

Phil – who likes to think of himself a some sort of designer – was incensed that TV and film credits were sometimes listed in italics elsewhere in capitals and occasionally in neither.

Names are misspelled. Actor John Duttine is correctly spelt in one entry and as John Duttin in another. Alasdair Harvey is listed as playing Avrahm (Avram) in Fiddler on the Roof, and Enjorlas (Enjolras) in Les Miserables. The Seven-Per-Cent Solution is listed as both The Seven Per Cent Solution and The Seven Percent Solution. A Slice of Saturday Night is listed as A Slice f Saturday Night. Her Majesty’s Theatre becomes Her Majesties Theatre.

By the time he had finished with his red pen, the show had come to a close.

Most of the after-show talk involved reflecting on how these singers (who are singing most of the time) can do eight punishing shows a week, belting out song after song when better known performers (you know who you are) struggle to manage six?

And as for Mr Sondheim, can that boy write a lyric! And occasionally a tune, too (but not enough to fill a show: many of the tunes in this are actually supplied by Leonard Bernstein, Mary Rodgers, Richard Rodgers and Jule Styne, of course).

Side by Side by Sondheim

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