Putting It Together at St James Theatre
First performed in New York over 20 years ago, Putting It Together commences its West End debut at the St James Theatre. Taking its title from Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sunday in the Park with George, this show is a revue showcasing the best of Sondheim’s musical repertoire.
Set at a New York cocktail party, Sondheim’s hits tell the story of two couples – one exceedingly rich, married and not entirely happy and the other fresh, young and just falling in love. Featuring classic tunes from the likes of Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Company and Into the Woods, Sondheim’s songs disclose each couples’ ruminations on the state and complexity of modern relationships.
The stage at St James is delightfully elegant; a six-piece band complete with grand-piano, double bass and bassoon welcome the audience and a huge chandelier casts glittering shapes throughout the room. The cast, clad in dinner jackets and evening dress, bop and swing around the stage, gracefully bringing Sondheim’s songs to life under the lively direction of Alastair Knights.
The plot, albeit flimsy, does provide some continuity, allowing each character to build a unique identity; Janie Dee – bold, sardonic and disillusioned with love, Caroline Sheen – naïve and romantic, David Bedella – embittered by monogamy, and Damian Humbley – dazzled by passion.
Initially the cast seem overpowered by the band, who navigate Sondheim’s swooping scores with polished effortlessness – particularly oboe/cor anglais player Lorraine Hart who plays with mesmerising feeling. By the second act however, the performance finds its feet and the sharp wit of Sondheim’s lyrics really comes to the fore. Sheen and Dee’s There’s Always a Woman is a glorious musical cat-fight, performed with cutting sarcasm and venomous bitchiness. Bang, a feast of raunchiness, sees Sheen and Humbley add a welcome dose of naughtiness to the elegant proceedings. It is Dee who stands out however; her rendition of Could I Leave You? brilliantly unearthing the sour reality of a rotting marriage and Not Getting Married Today made gaspingly funny by her crisp enunciation and powerful comic timing.
This glistening show, brimming with class, wit and sentiment is a must-see for hardcore lovers of Sondheim’s work and new listeners alike. A glorious celebration of Sondheim’s greatest musical achievements, it adeptly proves his ability to stir and excite.
Photos: Mike Eddowes
Putting It Together is at St James Theatre until 1st February 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.