A Fitting Tribute to Stephen Sondheim at the Proms

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Proms Chamber Music 5 Sondheim Siân Phillips (vocalist), Kitty Whately (mezzo-Soprano), Jamie Parker (vocalist), Anthony Brown (saxophone), Richard Sisson (piano), Petroc Trelawny (compère), Paul Foster (stage director), Cadogan Hall, London, 17.8.2015 (RB)


A Sondheim Cabaret

The Cadogan Hall was packed for this catalogue of popular numbers from Stephen Sondheim musicals.  Mr Sondheim was 85 earlier this year so this was a timely celebration of the great composer and lyricist’s work.  Composer and pianist, Richard Sisson, was responsible for arranging and pulling together the various numbers which comprised this Sondheim Cabaret, and he and Petroc Trelawny introduced the concert from the stage.

I last saw Kitty Whately perform the role of Rosina in The Barber of Seville at Opera Holland Park (review) but here she showed herself equally adept at performing Broadway numbers.  She gave a breezy, effortless account of ‘Everybody Says Don’t’ from Anyone can Whistle, handling Sondheim’s tongue-twisting lyrics with ease.   Jamie Parker is one of Alan Bennett’s original History Boys and a familiar figure on London’s West End.  He bounded on to the stage with enormous confidence before launching into ‘I’m Calm’ from A funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum – he brought a light-hearted exuberance to the song and added his own embellishments on the piano.  He proved to be a very sexy wolf with just the requisite whiff of danger in his rendition of ‘Hello Little Girl’ from Into the Woods – he produced a plush, rich tone which I liked enormously.  Whately and Parker proved a winning combination in ‘Take me to the World’ from Evening Primrose – they both did a great job in bringing out the Romantic longing and bloom of the song and they blended together extremely well.  Saxophonist, Anthony Brown, joined Richard Sisson for the latter’s own arrangement of ‘Send in the Clowns’ – I loved the dark, smoky timbres which Brown summoned from his saxophone and the rich, expressive phrasing.  Whately and Parker brought a sense of lush Romantic rapture to ‘Too Many Mornings’ from Follies – for me this was the performance of the afternoon.

After the lofty emotions of ‘Too Many Mornings’, Whately and Parker then gave us what Sisson described as “the morning after the night before” in ‘Barcelona’ from Company.  Here, both performers dealt with the more adult themes in a nicely understated and light-hearted way.  Sisson gave us some nice impressionistic textures and splashes of colour in ‘Sunday in the Park with George’ while Whately and Parker handled the vocal parts admirably.  Sisson was then joined by one of the veterans of stage and screen, Siân Phillips, in a performance of ‘Liaisons’ from A Little Night Music.  Miss Phillips’voice is no longer what it was but her diction is still excellent and she portrayed the elderly courtesan to perfection.  Anthony Brown joined Sisson again for the latter’s arrangement of ‘By the Sea’ from Sweeney Todd – the playing was rhythmically vibrant, flexible and upbeat.  Whately and Parker came back to the stage to give a buzzy and effervescent account of the short number, ‘Rain on the Roof’ from Follies.  Whately also took on one of the great staples of the repertoire – ‘Losing my Mind’ (Follies).  This was an emotionally powerful and high impact performance – it would be good to see this extraordinarily versatile performer taking on a leading role in a musical in London’s West End.  The concert concluded with all the performers on stage at once to give a glowing account of ‘Sunday’ from Sunday in the Park with George.

Overall, this was a highly enjoyable concert and a fitting tribute – if Mr Sondheim was listening to the music from his brownstone in New York via the internet I’m sure he would be pleased!

Robert Beattie



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