Greenwich Theatre, London SE10
Opened 28 July, 1997

Greenwich Theatre indulged in a slight terminological inexactitude when it announced that the three singers in Matthew Francis's production of Side By Side By Sondheim would be augmented by a series of "surprise guest" MCs... whose names it then proceeded to list.

The show itself a compilation made by Ned Sherrin and David Kernan in 1975 of Stephen Sondheim's work up to that point (his musical work only; no extracts, alas, from the gloriously bizarre screenplay he co-wrote with Anthony Perkins) was originally envisaged as no more than a simple entertainment. There is no plot, thus necessitating repeated scene-setting by the MC, and no real need for a set (Lez Brotherston's all-purpose apartment supplies the performers with a sofa, a bar, a couple of staircases and a Manhattan skyline); the singers interact only during numbers... or, in this case, when they are "corpsed" by the MC's ad-libs. This occurs not infrequently, as Francis's guest for the first two weeks is Dawn French.

It was never really likely that French would simply stick to the lines on her clipboard. She complains repeatedly about not being allowed to sing, bitches about singers Kathryn Evans and Liza Sadovy, and does not so much chat up David Malek as verbally ravish him. She even interrupts her introductions of numbers from Company to furnish us with a few alleged lowlights from her own marriage. One or two of the gags are allowed to run a little too long, but we begrudge her nothing.

The shows represented include not only Sondheim's own Follies, A Little Night Music, Anyone Can Whistle and Pacific Overtures but his work as lyricist on West Side Story, Gypsy and A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, in addition to a few novelty numbers Evans performs "I Never Do Anything Twice" from the quasi-Sherlock Holmes film The Seven Per Cent Solution as if she were Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles. Her performance of "I'm Still Here" builds to an Ethel Merman-like crescendo, almost matched at the end of the first half by Sadovy's slow-building rendition of "Broadway Baby".

All three performers are perfectly serviceable, but allow little individual personality to shine through, which means that the non-musical burden of the show is carried entirely by the MC.  French does the proceedings proud; one wonders exactly how Sheridan Morley or Roy Hattersley will fill her slingbacks in weeks to come.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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