“Stop worrying where you’re going—move on”
Theatreland does like to make sure every anniversary gets marked somehow and so following on from the celebrations around Les Misérables’ 30th birthday earlier this month is a similar hoohah for Stephen Sondheim’s 85th year on this planet. As is de rigueur for these events, a gala concert has been put on for the occasion with the kind of rollcall you could only normally dream of and naturally, Hey, Old Friends! had the price tag to go along with it.
As with Les Mis (which donated to Save The Children’s Syria Children’s appeal), the show benefitted charitable purposes, specifically The Stephen Sondheim Society and telephone helpline service The Silver Line, harnessing the major fundraising potential of such events. That said, these tickets tend to be so expensive that there’s a nagging feeling that they’re serving a limited audience with few opportunities for regular theatregoers to be a part of them.
Then there’s also the fact that it’s hard to make these events truly special when they happen fairly regularly. I mean it’s a nice problem to have but it is getting harder to get excited about similar ground being retrod every few years or so, even when it is celebrating such musical theatre talent as Sondheim himself – ‘Being Alive’ is undoubtedly a very good song and Michael Xavier did a fantastic job here but on the larger scale, it just feels like it’s been done before, many times.
A birthday tribute is the wrong time to complain about retrospectives but I’d love to see a company of this calibre tackling new musical theatre writing and shining a much-needed spotlight on composers who might yet achieve a modicum of the success that Sondheim’s career has accrued. Which all makes me sound rather grumpy I know, and ungrateful for having been lucky enough to attend, but I’m just being honest.
And when all is said and done, there was lots to enjoy and appreciate, not least Rosie Ashe’s powerful ‘Last Midnight’, Daniel Evans and Anna Francolini’s soaring ‘Move On’ leading into ‘Sunday’, Bonnie Langford’s every acrobatic movement and the final sequence which saw Tracie Bennett, Haydn Gwynne, Charlotte Page and Kim Criswell take on the oddly named “11 O’Clock Numbers” (ie the most famous ones) – ‘Broadway Baby’, ‘Send In The Clowns’, ‘Losing My Mind’ and ‘I’m Still Here’ respectively.
So a fitting tribute to one of our most esteemed musical theatre composers and well supported by the Arts Ed ensemble, Gareth Valentine’s orchestra and Bill Deamer’s choreography and direction – now we move onto next month’s one-off, the Kings of Broadway concert spectacular celebrating Sondheim, Jule Styne and Jerry Herman.
Photo: Darren Bell