Putting it together at Hope Mill
A Stephen Sondheim juke box musical – 5 actors, 1 pianist, 30+ songs. Andrew Gallo started the evening by apologising for a last minute cast change resulting in a disgruntled Michael Ball fan standing up and stomping out. Then Lauren turns up late. An interesting start! As the Party turns to Parh-dee (cue American accent), our 5 actors transition to New York residents in a Manhattan penthouse and an evening of tales and cocktails. An older couple (Gavin James and Lauren James Ray), a younger couple (Alex Cardall and Simbi Akande) and our commentator on the action – Andrew Gallo. And not forgetting Michael Webborn integral to the action as party pianist/MD.
Sondheim aficionados, of which there were clearly a number in the audience, will recognise and enjoy songs from Anyone Can Whistle, Assassins, Dick Tracy, A Little Night Music, Merrily We Roll Along and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. For those not born with the Sondheim gene, the evening provides a wealth of unknown musical treats (as well as classics from Company, Sweeney Todd and others). Particular highlights came from Lauren (The Ladies Who Lunch / Every Day a Little Death), Alex (Live Alone and Like It) and the excellent Andrew with Buddy’s Blues.
Clever staging through back projection allowed the action to be transported out of the apartment, and crisp direction from Bronagh Lagan kept the action varied and pacy. Spotlighting each character in turn in the second half worked well to focus on their personal stories, culminating in the powerful ensemble number Being Alive. It was impressive how so many songs could be squeezed into 90 minutes and, whilst the plot may be tenuous, overall it works. Any excuse to put together a celebration of Sondheim performed by a talented cast has to be a positive.
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Hope Mill Theatre, Pollard Street, Ancoats: October 24th-November 24th 2018