This is not the best week to put on an intimate Sondheim revue.
Overshadowed by the glorious Sondheim Prom at the Albert Hall, by Maria Friedman’s all-Sondheim set at Cadogan Hall and the reputedly outstanding Into The Woods just beginning at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and you’re on a hiding to nothing.
Throw in the fact that acts in the Camden Fringe have minimal preparation and stage time before strutting their fretful hour in the Roundhouse Studio and the cast of Sondheim by Sondheim more than have their work cut out.
And yet - the Tuesday audience was more than receptive, and for many it was an inexpensive opportunity to hear some of Stephen Sondheim’s less well-known material culled from rarely performed shows like Passion, Evening Primrose, Anyone Can Whistle and Marry Me A Little.
All the performers are ‘actors who can sing’ and the three men do much better than the eight women, particularly Peter Kenworthy, recently excellent as Dexter Haven in High Society at the Gatehouse, although even he has trouble with the top notes in ‘Being Alive’, and the very strong and elegant voice of Michael Stacey who rather outshone his partner in the duet ‘It Takes Two’.
Many of the pieces are performed as an ensemble, including an opening ‘Weekend In The Country’ from A Little Night Music which showed up the cast’s nervousness and felt more under-rehearsed than even the hasty staging of a fringe festival should allow. The later ‘The Sun Won’t Set’ from the same show, and the closing ‘Sunday’ from Sunday in the Park were much stronger and hinted at improvements to be expected later in the week.
Musical Director Aaron Clingham is at the keyboard and unfortunately the balance of voices and accompaniment is uneven, as is the cueing in the ensemble pieces when the cast would benefit from being able to see a conductor.
Sondheim material always works best in its original context, and the same company is mounting one of his best, Follies, long due a London revival, at Ye Old Rose and Crown Theatre from 21 October to 13 November. May even be worth the trek to Walthamstow.
Sondheim by Sondheim has two further performances at the Roundhouse Studio, Chalk Farm, NW1 Thursday and Friday 12 and 13 August at 7.30pm, all seats £7.50. Tickets from Roundhouse box office on 0844 482 8008 or online here
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