Putting it Together**** (St James Theatre, 30 January 2014)

Posted: January 31, 2014 in Theatre

A frequently heard comment about Stephen Sondheim is that few of his songs have a life outside the shows to which they belong. So, taking fish out of water, here we a have revue consisting of Sondheim numbers that draws its title from a song about a painting technique. Indeed, for anyone familiar with the shows, it is very difficult to hear the songs without associating them with their original context – when two men duet on the ravishing Pretty Women, one of them really needs to be slitting the other’s throat to bring out the full irony. But how would someone who is not already a Sondheim fanatic perceive the songs in a show like this? Happily, that is not a question which I am qualified to answer but I’m guessing that there would be quite a lot for them to enjoy. The setting is a sophisticated Manhattan cocktail party with a six piece band in the background and the song choices are largely (but not entirely) from shows that would fit such a setting – Company, Follies, Merrily We Roll Along. We hear a succession of bitter-sweet love songs, as would be delivered by affluent New Yorkers and, whilst these choices do not do full justice to Sondheim’s extensive range, there is room for more obscure songs to be performed at the expense of obvious hits; for once, Send in the Clowns is nowhere to be heard. The five performers are all seasoned actors who can sing rather than just singers, vital for interpreting some of the greatest lyrics ever written. Janie Dee breaks our hearts with Every Day a Little Death and later turns super bitch to spit out The Ladies Who Lunch. David Bedella, Daniel Crossley and Caroline Sheen take turns to stop the show, belting out numbers comic and sad. Then Damian Humbley, fresh from almost a year in Merrily…, gives the best rendition I have ever heard of Marry Me a Little, reminding us of how desperately London needs another revival of Company, preferably with him in the lead role. There are a few misjudgements, such as an ensemble performance of Being Alive, belying a lyric which is a deeply personal debate between one man and himself. However, on the whole, this is a slick celebration of musical theatre genius.

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