Side by Side by Sondheim; conceived and put together by David Kernan, Ned Sherrin and Stuart Pedlar, is by far one of the best Stephen Sondheim revues going. It, unlike some of the other revues such as Putting It Together and Marry Me a Little, features a narrator who introduces the songs with background and context, and offers information on the personal life of Sondheim. From some of Sondheim’s most famous productions, are chosen a repertoire of songs, that aren’t necessarily the songs you might expect to be picked from these shows. These are productions in which he has written, either the music, the lyrics, or both. From Gypsy to Pacific Overtures, West Side Story to Anyone Can Whistle, and Company to Do I Hear a Waltz? This show really does offer a diverse variation of musical theatre by one of the greatest writers in showbiz history.
The Jack Studio Theatre is a fantastic venue for this production. For a small fringe theatre it accommodates plenty of seats with raked seating, meaning pretty much every seat has a clear view of the ample stage. The stage is simply lit with an effective shade and featured a proscenium arch with naked bulbs dotted at intervals around it, that gave a classy, showbiz character to the overall look. Topped off with two piano’s splitting upstage centre (at just the right angle to allow a decent view of the two pianists playing) that provides the musical accompaniment for the show. Aesthetically it couldn’t be more fitting to this style of production, or more pleasing for the audience to enjoy the full benefits of such a well put together show.
Stuart Pedlar, the musical director on the original 1975 production, MD’s and also narrates this time, and this he does exceptionally. With an almost Attenborough quality Pedlar manages to present the relevant biographical information with less a script, and more an extensive knowledge of Sondheim’s history, told through conversation speech, with added current context and humour. He dips in and out from the piano stall, taking centre stage to address the audience, and back again to masterfully navigate Sondheim’s scores. Dan Glover accompanies as his equally talented assistant. The two pianists work in perfect harmony to create a full and glorious sound. Then there’s our three performers, Marianne Benedict, Grant McConvey and Sarah Redmond. In that order, Benedict supplies the soaring soprano notes of the evening, playing Maria in their rendition of “A Boy Like That / I Have a Love” from West Side Story and Jennifer in “We’re Gonna Be Alright” from Do I Hear a Waltz? Benedict flits from the light hearted comedy and dramatic tragedy found in their respective shows with admirable conviction and character. McConvey is a new graduate which shows compared to the extensive experience of the other two. His impressive lyrical tenor voice lent itself perfectly to numbers such as “I Remember” from Evening Primrose, but left us slightly underwhelmed when it came to “Being Alive” from Company, a number that demands incredible power both vocally and emotionally, which at this point he lacked. Then there’s Su Pollard’s replacement Sarah Redmond who is most definitely the star of the show. Redmond’s performance of “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music is devastatingly beautiful. From one extreme to another she then has everyone crying with laughter by her rendition of “A Boy From…” from The Mad Show. Redmond has an experienced confidence when it comes to this cabaret-esque style of performance, that works wonderfully in this show. There was the odd moment throughout the show in which it felt as though the performers were holding back vocally. This could be something to do with intimate nature of the space, but as they were not miked this doesn’t really seem justified. Whatever the reason, it left some numbers somewhat undersold, lacking just that little bit extra needed to blow us away. Overall this is a enjoyable show and an absolute must-see for any Sondheim, or indeed musical theatre fan.
Reviewed by Bob Galereux
Playing at the Jack Studio Theatre until September 26th