The discussion in the interval was ‘is this one for the Sondheim fans or can you appreciate the show regardless...?’ – the answer was a resounding ‘both.’ With such an extensive catalogue that includes some of the best loved musical numbers, Side by Side by Sondheim promised to be a evening, celebrating the talent and wonderment of one man. And it didn’t disappoint.
Side by Side has been revived at the Brockley Jack, forty years after is was first performed and created by David Kernan, Ned Sherrin and Musical Director Stuart Pedler. Originally intended as a Sunday evenings entertainment to break up the long runs they were each working on, Side by Side went on to have a West End run, a stint on Broadway and many performances across the world. Now Pedler has returned as Musical Director to lead the AC Group’s production directed by Elliot Clay.
The intimacy of the stage at the Jack perfectly lends itself to the conversation and narration by Pedler as he introduces the songs and offers tidbits of history with stories of Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers. You easily lose yourself from seats at the theatre to the atmosphere of an underground jazz bar with mood lighting, that feels completely relaxed and warm with the simplicity of two pianos delivering the score. Pedler has a humble quality and you can instantly sense his love and passion for Sondheim’s music.
He’s joined on stage by talented Assistant Musical Director Dan Glover and a small dazzling cast of three. Marianne Benedict, Grant McConvey and Sarah Redmond take on the greats such as ‘If Momma Was Married’ from Gypsy, ‘Send in the Clowns’ from A Light Night Music and ‘Company’ from Company to name just a few.
I am a HUGE Gypsy fan but was fairly unfamiliar with some of his earlier works including Follies, Evening Primrose and Anyone Can Whistle. Side by Side was created in 1975 so obviously doesn’t contain someone of the more well known songs from Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods as these were written later.
Nonetheless, as stated earlier, you could fully appreciate the beautiful melodies and comedic performances delivered by the cast. Sarah Redmond’s moving rendition of ‘Send in the Clowns’ almost had me in tears, equally when McConvey sang ‘I Remember’ from Evening Primrose, it was stunningly delivered with real heart. Another stand out performance was Marianne Benedict’s ‘The Little Things You Do Together’ with Grant McConvey that was hilariously funny and executed brilliantly.
Although I may have singled out a few performances, they were all spectacularly sung by an unfaltering cast. Side by Side had the danger of turning into a jukebox musical but instead what you experience is a delightfully enchanting and throughly charming evening. The three performers take on the roles of each song but without over-hamming them and simply offering a delightful taster.
Sondheim was once asked by a producer to write songs people could hum and it’s fair to say I hummed all the way home… For a wonderful celebration of a superbly talented musician and lyricist, head to the Brockley Jack now. I promise you’ll toe-tap all the way through and love really is in the air.
Side by Side by Sondheim runs until 26th September at the Brockley Jack.