Classic Moments - Hidden Treasures

Devised from the works of Stephen Sondheim by Tim McArthur
Jermyn Street Theatre

Cast photo

Jermyn Street Theatre's 80th birthday tribute to Stephen Sondheim was previously titled Secret Sondheim . . . a celebration of his lesser known work. The fact that the title has been changed could reflect either of two immediately apparent truths. The first is that due to Sondheim's increasing popularity the repertoire would be largely restricted to Road Show, because it has not yet been produced in the UK, or using material that others have previously considered and rejected, and probably with good reason. The latter option would also render the piece attractive only to a minority interest group of Sondheim anoraks and have minute box office takings as a result.

The second truth is that Sondheim's songs are so specific to their setting that presenting an evening of material delivered out of the context for which it was written necessitates throwing the audience a lifeline in the form of a scattering of familiar songs. This is especially so when rejecting cabaret style banter or linking narrative, and also doing away with any apparent theme as the creator has chosen to do here.

In keeping with its new title, Classic Moments - Hidden Treasures has a reasonable cross-section of Sondheim's work in that songs from the film score of Dick Tracy and the teleplay with music Evening Primrose are strewn amongst examples of his stage work, with Company and Pacific Overtures being the most noticeable of the absentees.

The Sondheim tribute clichés 'Losing My Mind', 'Broadway Baby' and 'Send in the Clowns', despite being classics, have gratifyingly all been omitted, with Follies being represented by three numbers including 'You're Gonna Love Tomorrow' and A Little Night Music by 'Every Day A Little Death', so the issue here is not so much with the choice of songs, but with the choice of songs for the cast of the show.

Laura Armstrong provides the quality comic turns of the evening with 'On the Steps of the Palace' from Into the Woods and a tongue-twister parody of 'The Girl from Ipanema' from The Mad Show called 'The Boy From' which Sondheim co-wrote under a pseudonym with Mary Rodgers (daughter of Richard with whom Sondheim collaborated on flop, Do I Hear a Waltz?).

Armstrong's voice and comic skills are the strongest of this cast of five, although Valerie Cutko, who delivers a moving 'Everyday a Little Death' and handles 'Can That Boy Foxtrot' well, is the more interesting of these two performers. These two ladies also provide the vocal backbone to the ensemble pieces which would benefit from a strong male voice.

Tim McArthur, who also directs, and Jon-Paul Hevey are well matched in 'Everybody Ought to Have a Maid' and handle their solos competently though without thrills. Youngest of the team is Lucy Johnson who has a sweet style but needs more direction to deliver 'I Remember' with conviction. Her skills are also at odds with 'Sooner or Later' a seductive bluesy number for which she is too youthfully cute. Now cute can be appealing, but it's not commandingly alluring which is what this song is all about.

The directorial approach has been to allow "the performers [to] bring their individual voices to the songs, inviting you to see them in a different context". This is acceptable to a point and not an unsuccessful approach across the board, but delivering the deranged exalting of unhinged would-be assassins ('Unworthy of Your Love') as carefree, flirty young lovers is a very strange treatment indeed. Talk about "different context"!

Theatres and concert halls across the land and beyond are awash with Stephen Sondheim birthday tributes so aficionados and novices alike can take their pick. Aficionados who select this one may be disappointed; novices may be puzzled at what the fuss is about.

"Classic Moments - Hidden Treasures" plays Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm with matinées on Saturday and Sunday at 4pm. Until 24 July

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti

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