Barely 15 months old, Victoria's St James Theatre has fast established itself as a venue of some clout – next month, for instance, sees it score quite the coup by hosting UK London premiere of oddball Broadway hit ‘Urinetown’, directed by the red hot Jamie Lloyd.
This month’s main-house show is a coup of sorts too – the first London production of this 1992 revue by Stephen Sondheim. It's been staged before – in Oxford with Diana Rigg and New York with Julie Andrews – but never in the capital, a fact that seems astonishing in the light of this superb production, directed by Alastair Knights (fresh from drama school and clearly a talent to watch).
Revues can be tedious, self-congratulatory affairs but Sondheim and his co-creator Julia McKenzie neatly sidestepped this by working the songs around a canny narrative conceit. Two couples – one young and winsome, the other older and more cynical, as most of Sondheim’s fictional marriages turn out to be – attend a New York party. The songs, drawn from shows such as ‘Sunday in the Park with George’ and ‘A Little Night Music’, are cleverly arranged to tease out the couples’ contrasting feelings about love and relationships.
The cast is uniformly first-rate: Janie Dee excels as the disappointed, world-weary older wife, and Damian Humbley’s rendition of ‘Marry Me a Little’, from ‘Company’, is a masterclass in how Sondheim should be done. There is much fun to be had, too, in spotting the most unlikely Sondheim rhymes. My personal favourite is ‘Tacoma’ and ‘MoMA’ (in ‘Country House’). Go, enjoy, and have fun choosing your own.
By Laura Barnett