Review: Putting It Together, St James Theatre

Sooner is better than later but lover, I’ll hover, I’ll plan”

For a show that proudly describes itself as a musical review, Sondheim compendium Putting It Together sure spends a lot of time faffing about trying to construct an (unspoken) narrative on which to hang the various excerpts from musicals such as Merrily We Roll Along, Company and A Little Night Music. But in all honesty, it is a more successful piece of entertainment once it jettisons such lofty ideas (somewhere early in the second half) and incorporates some of Sondheim’s lesser performed works, not least a number of songs from Dick Tracy.

These may not necessarily be familiar to everyone but Sondheim did win an Oscar for ‘Sooner Or Later’ and when I was a wee whippersnapper, the soundtrack album as such (Madonna’s I’m Breathless) was one of my favourite cassettes. So it was these moments that shone best for me, particularly Caroline Sheen’s glorious take on ‘More’ (and also ‘Sooner or Later’) and a titanic duet with Janie Dee from Anyone Can Whistle.

Such as it is, the story follows two couples at a cocktail party – one older and full of wearied argument, the other younger and full of flirtatious energy. With an observer passing comment and filling in for minor role, the scene is set to incorporate any number of songs from Sondheim’s substantial canon and whilst they may well lose something when removed from their context, the kind of greatest hits feel to the show is simply splendid and allows for an uncomplicated pleasure to be derived from his writing.

Dee is superb throughout – ‘Not Getting Married’ a particular highlight – as are the whole company of five and band of six under Theo Jamieson’s musical direction. Daniel Crossley’s ‘Buddy’s Blues’ is another showstopper and Damian Humbley works his way brilliantly through a number of excellent numbers, whether duetting on ‘Pretty Women’ or breaking hearts in ‘Marry Me A Little’. It’s a bit of a hotchpotch of a show but one of such sheer quality, both in terms of material and performance, that it is one of the best things in a theatre this month. 

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Booking until 1st February

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