PUTTING IT TOGETHER
by Julia McKenzie and Stephen Sondheim.
St James Theatre 12 Palace Street SW1E 5JA To 1 February 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed 3pm Sat & Sun 4pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 264 2160.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 19 January.
Wit and sophistication matched in material and performances.
Pulling it apart might be easier. Art isn’t, as the title song in this revue formed of songs from Stephen Sondheim musicals has it, easy: “each minor detail is a major decision”. But assembling songs from widely different contexts and giving them a new frame is not only difficult, it ignores aspects of Sondheim’s range.
Perhaps his finest achievement (OK, there are many) is ‘Someone in a Tree’ from Pacific Overtures, a number combining Broadway excitement with storytelling, the fallibility of human memory and the process of recovering the past from separate pieces of evidence – putting history together.
But it’s not here, having no relevance to the setting, a sophisticated New York party where relationships shift through Sondheim numbers. The title song is the most disrupted, yanked from Sunday in the Park with George and deprived of its commentary on ‘the art of making art’.
Yet which other composer and lyricist could provide the range of ironic wit and comment that’s here? Sondheim’s dazzling literary skill – no line too short to end naturally with a rhyme, no rhyme unable to replicate itself many times (sorry to come back to it, but the Pacific Overtures number ‘Chrysanthemum Tea’ is a masterful display of this). All without any forced rearrangements of word order, syllable-padding or consciously poetic diction.
Alongside this is a kind of parallel tunefulness – in the introductory number here, and one, not used, in Merrily We Roll Along Sondheim plays with the complaint his scores lack big tunes. They might, but his gift for pastiche and the ingenuity of his word-setting mean melodic originality and memorability creep up on the listener. With words so ingenious the music caries an inevitability that’s attractive.
What work best are the numbers from shows like Company, or Merrily We Roll Along (this revue’s anchor) which fit the scenario of Putting It Together. And no-one could better put-across the detail of wit, or the depth and range of commentary on human beings when put together with sophisticated awareness and articulation of feelings and desires, than the five cast members in this rich treat for Sondheimites.
Man 1: David Bedella.
Man 3: Daniel Crossley.
Woman 1: Janie Dee.
Man 2: Damian Humbley.
Woman 2: Caroline Sheen.
Director: Alastair Knights.
Lighting: Joseph Capes.
Sound: Andrew Josephs.
Musical Supervisor: Alex Parker.
Musical Director: Theo Jamieson.
Choreographer: Matthew Rowland.
Associate director/choreographer: Scarlet Wilderink.