Putting It Together – Lyric Theatre, Belfast

Writer: Stephen Sondheim

Director: Stephen Whitson

Musical Director: Issac McCullough

Reviewer: Colm G Doran

“Art isn’t easy”; a line from one the opening numbers of Blunt Fringe’s latest show Putting it Together seems to sum up the situation when this troop of actors were faced with singing their way through a whopping thirty two songs from various Sondheim shows, but by and large they do it with style.

As a musical review, the show is neither a musical nor a concert, but a hybrid of the two. The five actors take turns to sing their way through much of Sondheim’s back catalogue, with no dialogue linking the songs except themes such as: desperation, happiness and consummation. While this is a novel experience in the theatre, the effect is jarring at first; in their original musicals these songs are so rich in the context of their surrounding scenes and characters, when they are stripped of that surrounding arc the meanings and motives behind the songs are slightly diminished. However the actors more than make up for these issues with their slick synchronised movements and well matched harmonies.

For the most part the cast are split into an older couple (played by Carol Starks and Nicholas Pound), a younger couple (played by Christina Tedders and Fra Fee) and a narrator/compere (played by Brad Clapson). The older couple shine in songs such as Country House – that depict a couple who have succeeded in gaining wealth and influence but have lost each other along the way. Both Starks and Pound play the love-turned-sour vibe to comic effect with lines like: “whatever makes you happy” sung through gritted teeth. The young couple explore love from the opposite end of the spectrum, with Tedders turning up the heat in a sultry and soft version of Sooner or Later which tells of a woman who “always gets [her] man” while Fee lends his musical skills to accompany her on piano. Regular injections of comedy appear in the form of the compere/narrator, Clapson, who combines Alan Carr and Nathan Lane with his never-ending catalogue of hilarious glances and gestures, which he teams with polished vocals to great effect.

The tempo of the second act is dramatically upped, the energy is fresh and the solo performances seem to show vocal skills that the cast have kept hidden up to now. Songs like More provoke thunderous applause as Tedders commands the stage showcasing her insatiable lust for the finer things in life. Similarly Starks portrays the darkly comic cold-footed bride-to-be in Not Getting Married with a desperation so vivid that you half expect to see the wedding party wander in followed by a priest. Fee also deserves a mention for a sterling performance of the technically challenging Marry Me A Little, however he is too often the same stock young lover character, only really changing his style of performance for the risqué number Bang, but even this is all too fleeting. One of the final numbers – Being Alive steals the show as it is reimagined from a solo song to a five part harmony that pushes the opposing themes of loneliness and companionship in such a touching way that several members of the audience dabbed away a tear.

The show is not without its flaws; there are issues of mixed vocal ability, microphone and lighting problems and a few issues with vocal timing. However, the songs are all well interpreted and performed with complete commitment by the cast. The cabaret seating and use of the balcony to include different levels work well, particularly in the numbers that involve the entire cast. Ultimately if you’re looking for something you can hum along to, this (or any Sondheim musical) is not for you. But if you want to see some of the best songs in musical theatre presented in a fresh way by a very talented bunch, then you’re bound to enjoy this.

Runs until December 19th | Image: contributed by the Lyric Theatre

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