Review, Steven Sondheim’s Old Friends, Gielgud Theatre, London by James Ellis

Photo credit: Danny Kaan

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

If ever there was a more perfect introduction to the work of Steven Sondheim, it is Old Friends. Carefully arranged by Cameron Mackintosh, the evening is a complete triumph, the spirit of Broadway and of the man himself lies in every note.

If I’m very much mistaken, most if not all of his shows are crammed into this spectacle. All his retrospection, the machine gun lyrical delivery, the tender phrasing and punchy musical gustro all frequent his heaven sent show. You really can’t belive your luck when sat there and seeing this career which spanned decades go by, we only lost Steven not long ago and even his last musical has just opened in New York.

I’ve less love for Into the Woods, though here Bernadette Peters made for a hilaroius Red Riding Hood, aside the sexed up Mr Wolfman from a marvellous Bradley Maden. Much billing has gone to Peters and I can see why. It is her innocnet and infecious voice that reels you in, a delight upon closer inspection. I did hear perhaps a voice crack or two, though these were during the big, ballsy nunmbers, though I have no complaints. I love her. Lets not forget her Send in the Clowns and Losing My Mind as well!

Lea Salonga, most famous as Kim in Miss Saigon, also gets meaty ballads and rowdy numbers all over the place. Her passion got the audience in a state of rapture. The familar face of Bonnie Langford also impressed with strident vocals and good comic timing. Janie Dee might just be my favourite persona on the night, her Ladies Who Lunch a total highlight, The Boy From… another thrill with a few refrences to Wales, which got me in a whooping mood, perhaps I was the only Welsh in on the night?

Clare Burt and Christine Allado were in fabulous company, more treats along the way. Gavin Lee getting heaps of solos and duets with quick wit and vocally well paced. Jason Pennycooke coming into his own with the frantic song Broadway Baby from Follies, another triumph leaving me quite dizzy. Joanna Riding and Damian Humbley were even more joys in the cast, their many musical moments spread out over the evening. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, his first musical as both composer and lyricist, got a piffy flutter though remains slightly overshadowed by what would follow. 

Photo credit: Danny Kaan 

Jeremy Secomb as Sweeny Todd faired well in the demands of the roll, perhaps the most operatic of Sondheim’s whole oeuvre. Time spent with Gypsy and Everything’s Coming Up Roses was affirmed and I am so glad they included it. Pickings from West Side Story and Dick Tracey also help up well, the later an Oscar winning turn. Merrily We Roll Along has found fame since its first flop, the title song of the show coming from his musical. Its remains the best moment in Merrily and used as an encore was perfection. Beyond catchy.

Sunday in the Park With George might be one of his best, used an a first act ender was finely poised. Company holds up, the Not Getting Married song was another outstanding corker Passion and The Mad Show I know less of and I note the lack of Assassins and Pacific Overtures too.

See it. My word, just see it.

It runs till 6th January 2024

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