Director: Ray Rackham
If songs from a band’s entire career can be crafted into musicals it makes sense that the opposite should apply, and songs from musicals can be crafted into something resembling an album. This is one way of looking at London Theatre Workshop’s celebration of Stephen Sondheim’s Love Songs. The risks are that the finished product could end up like a greatest hits album with songs rubbing together uneasily, and making the audience want to dig out the classic albums and skip the rest, but under the skilful direction of Ray Rackham and Thomas Lees, this production more than dodges that risk, with songs that segue way as if they were designed to be together.
It isn’t a musical, so there is no plot, but there are thematic and musical links between the selections. The first act draws largely on the first rushes of love, the uncertainties, hopes and longings that come with it, albeit mixed with a few of the let downs of people who aren’t as romantic as they should be, and long term couples reminding us what love can turn into. The standout performances here came from Sam Harrison, embodying the hope, possibilities, and unquestioning optimism of young love, and Lowri-Ann Davies, proving herself to be wonderfully dexterous and adept, delivering complex lyrics in style with her performances of ‘The Boy From’, and the show-stealing ‘Getting Married Today’.
The second act draws further on the back of love, and has a more low-key, downbeat feel, as unhappy couples vie with broken relationships to reflect on choices not taken and regret the ones that were. Again this is tempered with more optimistic selections where love has survived and matured rather than withered, and it ends with an uplifting finish, showing the thought and skill that has gone into crafting the show. Harrison and Davis are less prominent in this act, although Davis again delivered some of its standout moments, as the maturity and experience implicit in Steve Brown’s delivery comes to the fore.
One of the many things notable about the production is the way the voices combine, the contrasting vocal styles forming a satisfying cohesive whole, with all cast members given songs that play to their strengths, highlighting their talents individually and as an ensemble. They inhabit the characters in each of the songs while also finding the threads that unite them, helped by the stage set and simple but effective choreography. Marcia Brown brings a streetwise, New York style to her performances, Oliver Watton is less streetwise, but just as New York, excelling when he is lovelorn or wistful, Aimee Gray’s voice has an innocence and purity that sits well with her songs, Ellen Verenieks delivery of ‘Uptown Downtown’ was one of the standouts of Act 1, and Anton Tweedale reminded everyone how good a song ‘Losing My Mind’ can be when stripped of the synths that covered the Liza Minelli/Pet Shop Boys version.
The only thing that would have improved the evening would have been for the contrast between the first and second acts to be slightly less marked, but that would probably have disrupted the mood and flow. If you’re a fan of Sondheim, or love songs that are more than ‘I love you, I love you too’ this is a fantastic evenings entertainment.
Runs until 19th May