Brave to stage the London premiere of Putting It Together just after Christmas when telly’s just served countless cobbled together compilation shows, reviews of the year and list shows. And, of course, we hold our hands up, the Whinger’s last post was listing considerably too.
Do we need another Sondheim compilation show? What could possibly be new after Side by Side by Sondheim or Sondheim on Sondheim? Perhaps in the not-too-distant future some bright spark will put together a compilation show of Sondheim compilation shows.
So, PIT is billed as “a musical review” not “a musical revue” then goes on to describe itself in its publicity as “a revue with a difference”. Which should we believe and does it matter?
Anyhoo, that “difference” is to tell a story, of sorts. Devised in 1992 by Sondheim and Julia McKenzie, it’s set at a cocktail party in New York and features two couples one jaded, middle-aged and married (Janie Dee and David Bedella) and another younger pair (Damian Humbley and Caroline Sheen) going through all the things couples do, bickering, recriminations, drinking, flirtations, disappointments and harmonising in song.
Daniel Crossley completes the “stellar award-winning cast” switching between, toyboys and waiters or whatever the “story” requires as an observer and occasional perky narrator. Starting the show with the conceit that he has to ad-lib with a bit of patter as Ms Dee is apparently late due to heavy traffic. We, initially, fell for that one, as Phil’s companion for the evening arrived at the eleventh hour for that very reason.
The cast live up to their “stellar” moniker despite the knowledge that previous New York productions starred Julie Andrews, Carol Burnett and err, John Barrowman. All perform with effortless charm.
The usual suspects are represented, Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Follies and a few lesser known shows, plus the Academy Award-winning “Sooner or Later” from Dick Tracy. Sometimes full numbers, sometimes a snippet; Sunday in the Park with George‘s “It’s Hot Up Here” is necessarily abridged and tweeked to “It’s Hot In Here” to fit the theme.
Out of their context some songs lose a little impact, though, despite stretching it a little with the lyric “There’s no possible way/To describe what you feel/When you’re talking to your meal” in the Wolf/Red Riding Hood song from Into the Woods’ “Hello Little Girl” performed by Bedella and Sheen becomes even more predatory and sinister and almost a case for Operation Yewtree.
There’s a neat gender-twist on “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Crossley displays energetic charisma in “Buddy’s Blues” (Follies) and Janie Dee nails indecently breakneck neurosis in “Not Getting Married Today” to steal a show she’d already previously abducted with another from Company, “Ladies Who Lunch” and A Little Night Music‘s “Every Day a Little Death”.
Alastair Knights directs peppily, keeping the show moving along with terrific changes of mood and pace throughout. The six-piece band (musical director Theo Jamieson) perform with brio despite some looking so youthful it suggests they should be attending their homework.
It was good to see The St James Theatre almost full for once. Any member of The Stephen Sondheim Society attending should place a towel between their seat and their derrière before viewing.