Stephen sondheim

Zips along with enormous vim: Malcolm Arnold’s The Dancing Master reviewed

Malcolm Arnold composed his opera The Dancing Master in 1952 for BBC television. It never appeared, the problem being the source material — William Wycherley’s 1671 farce The Gentleman Dancing Master. Jokes about wedding nights and ‘scarlet foppery’ might have flown in the reign of Charles II but the New Elizabethans at Broadcasting House were altogether more shockable. ‘Too bawdy for family audiences,’ was Auntie’s official verdict, leaving The Dancing Master largely forgotten until a premiere recording late last year, and now — conducted by John Andrews and using almost the same cast — its first ever professional production, at the Buxton International Festival. Clearly, there are historic debts to

Posh people move house

Non-stop chatterbox and mystifyingly revered fabricator of sub-Chekovian paddywhackery, Brian Friel has received another production at the Donmar. His play Aristocrats cadges shamelessly from Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard. The setting is a crumbling mansion in Donegal occupied by four adult members of the O’Donnell clan (three girls, one boy), who idle around the place waiting for Dad to clock out so they can get their mitts on the bricks. Lindsey Turner’s production is curiously stripped of ornament. The characters are assembled on a lime-green patio, suggestive of mown grass, which is surmounted by a white frame with the dimensions of the goalposts at Wembley. To represent the mansion

Country music | 9 November 2017

Americans may be able to draw on only 250 years of history, but they’re not shy of making a song and dance of it. In early December, Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s $1 billion-grossing, hip-hop and show-tune extravaganza about one of the country’s founding fathers will finally open to sold-out crowds in London. It joins the Menier Chocolate Factory’s sold-out revival of Sondheim’s Assassins, the Tony Award-winning musical about the cranks and misfits who have, to paraphrase its opening number, exercised their right to follow their dreams by attempting to assassinate US presidents from Roosevelt to Reagan (but not, yet, Trump). Both shows fit neatly into the American tradition of making successful

Age concern | 14 September 2017

Stephen Sondheim’s Follies takes a huge leap into the past. It’s 1971 and we meet two middle-aged couples who knew each other three decades earlier at a New York music hall. The building faces demolition and the owner is throwing a party for his old dancing-girls. Dominic Cooke’s lavish production of this vintage musical boasts 58 performers, 160 costumes and 200 production staff. Yet it’s a curiously small show that could be performed, with a few cuts, in a pub theatre. There are four main characters and a smattering of cameos. Phyllis and Ben are rich New York grandees, unhappily married. Their chums Bud and Sally are also wealthy and

Blunt and bloody: ENO’s Sweeney Todd reviewed

A wicked deception is sprung in the opening moments of this New York-originated concert staging of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s Sweeney Todd. The English National Opera orchestra, liberated from the pit, is duly assembled on stage at the London Coliseum; flower arrangements and a Steinway grand add to the formality, and right on cue the conductor and cast, suitably attired in evening wear and with scores in hand, take their places behind a line of music stands. The applause dies and Bryn Terfel turns to the conductor, clears his throat and nods. The whirring ostinato introducing ‘The Ballad of Sweeney Todd’ begins — furtively — and Sweeney, of course,

The Heckler: Why I’m allergic to Stephen Sondheim

I came out in a rash when I heard that Emma Thompson was to star in Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd at the Coliseum. Sondheim has that effect on me. And it’s an allergy I bear with pride. I’ve been the victim of a Sondheim evening only once in my life and I emerged feeling as if I’d been shrieked at for three hours by a gorilla with rabies. The show, Sunday in the Park with George, was conceived as an exercise in ‘musical pointillism’ to honour the painter Georges Seurat. Musical pointillism? Come on. Sondheim has supporters that I admire, like Michael Grandage, and I would put the following questions

Pure and simple

It might be that the stage musical is now pretty well over as a form. Certainly, the gloomy parade of ‘juke-box’ musicals through the West End doesn’t give one much hope for the future. It is difficult to pick out a worst offender, but the Ben Elton We Will Rock You, confected from the Queen catalogue, is as bad as any. Its premise, of taking the work of a curious-looking, homosexual, Parsi, excessive genius like Freddie Mercury and turning it into an idiotic story about two clean-cut stage-school kids Putting the Show on Right Now says something truly terrible about the musical: it says that it can only deal with

Almost everything came up roses

There’s a number in Merrily We Roll Along called ‘Opening Doors’, in which two young songwriters audition for a producer who interrupts: ‘That’s great! That’s swell!/ The other stuff as well!/ It isn’t every day I hear a score this strong,/ But fellas, if I may,/ There’s only one thing wrong:/ There’s not a tune you can hum.’ Urging them to be ‘less avant-garde’, he exits, asking for a ‘plain old melodee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee’ — sung (inaccurately) to the tune of ‘Some Enchanted Evening’. There’s a number in Merrily We Roll Along called ‘Opening Doors’, in which two young songwriters audition for a producer who interrupts: ‘That’s great! That’s swell!/ The other