Music and lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Bronagh Lagan
Reviewer: Richard Hall
One of the many reasons why Hope Mill Theatre and Aria Entertainment continue to produce hit after hit is their uncanny and almost god-like gift for choosing intimate and sophisticated shows that are perfectly suited to being performed in this beautifully renovated warehouse. Their latest offering Putting It Together is no exception and with an extremely talented and spirited cast this production has the feeling of a brand new show rather than a revival of one first seen twenty-six years ago.
Consisting of more than thirty songs from some of Stephen Sondheim’s earliest and arguably best musicals the revue devised by musical theatre doyen, Julia McKenzie, features two couples and a single man at a cocktail party in a Manhattan apartment. One of the couples is having relationship problems whilst the other is enjoying the first throws of an intense and passionate relationship. The single man acts as a foil for both couples at times serving as a waiter and at others as an object of desire for the two women. A lovely touch is when this character, superbly played by Andrew Gallo, introduces the musical revue. He analyses the morals of each of the featured Sondheim shows declaring that for Company it is men that cannot commit and then quickly ads, acknowledging the current gender swapping West End production that this applies to women too.
Sondheim’s songs are performed out of context from how they appear in his musicals. This may anger some purists but given McKenzie’s loose framing device it enables each song to be wonderfully reinterpreted and for Sondheim’s exceptional skills and talents as a composer and lyricist to be fully appreciated. Cleverly divided into sections which highlight some of the characters deeply hidden emotions the songs explore universal themes such as fragility, fidelity and loss. These are humorously and poignantly brought to life through Bronagh Lagan’s witty direction and William Whelton’s playful and stylish choreography.
As with Side By Side With Sondheim, the show is essentially a compilation of Sondheim’s Greatest Hits from the beginning of his career to the late nineteen eighties. It draws heavily from Company and each of the five principals is given an opportunity to perform a song from this iconic musical. Of these Lauren James Ray achieves musical theatre perfection in her performances of the deeply sardonic Ladies Who Lunch and the hugely comic and yet deeply touching, Getting Married Today. The section in which these songs appear is brought to a show-stopping end with an exquisite and emotionally charged rendition of Being Alive performed by the full company.
Gallo and James Ray are joined in an effortless display of matchless musicality by Simbi Akande, newcomer Alex Cardall who is making only his second professional appearance and Gavin James. Suitably on a grand piano Musical Director Michael Webborn accompanies with great sensitivity and his contribution is as much to be applauded as those of the gifted performers that he shares centre stage with.
The appeal of this marvellous production lies far beyond fans of Stephen Sondheim. It is a show that should be seen by anyone who enjoys watching quality musical theatre. This charming, energetic and hugely enjoyable production is a joyful celebration of one of the true greats of musical theatre. It is highly recommended and should not be missed.
Runs until Saturday 24 November 2018 | Image: Phil Tragen