SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
with additional music by Leonard Bernstein, Mary Rodgers,
Richard Rodgers and Jule Styne
Original narration by Ned Sherrin
Stephen Sondheim was born on 22 March 1930, the son of a wealthy New York dress manufacturer. However, when his parents divorced, he moved with his mother to Bucks County, Pennsylvania and young Stephen found himself in the right place at the right time. A neighbour of his mother’s, Oscar Hammerstein II, was working on a new musical called Oklahoma! and it didn’t take long for the adolescent boy to realise that he, too, was intrigued by musical theatre. Although he subsequently studied composition with Milton Babbitt, he chose to apply what he learned in the all-or-nothing commercial hothouse of Broadway. Like Hammerstein, he has written the occasional pop song (with Jule Styne for Tony Bennett) and dabbled in films (Stavisky, Reds, Dick Tracy), but, like Hammerstein, he has always come back to the theatre.
His initial success came as a somewhat reluctant lyricist to Leonard Bernstein on West Side Story (1957) and Jule Styne on Gypsy (1959). Exciting and adventurous as those shows were in their day, and for all their enduring popularity, Sondheim’s philosophy since is encapsulated in one of his song titles: “I Never Do Anything Twice”. His first score as composer-lyricist was A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (1962) – a show so funny few people spotted how experimental it was: it’s still the only successful musical farce. In the following three decades, critics detected a Sondheim style – a fondness for the harmonic language of Ravel and Debussy; a reliance on vamps and skewed harmonies to destabilise the melody; a tendency to densely literate lyrics. But, all that said, it’s the versatility that still impresses: you couldn’t swap a song from the exuberantly explosive pit-band score of Anyone Can Whistle (1964) with one of the Orientally influenced musical scenes in Pacific Overtures (1976); you couldn’t mistake the neurotic pop score of Company (1970) for the elegantly ever-waltzing A Little Night Music (1973).
Sondheim hit his stride in the Seventies, forming a unique partnership of hyphenates with Hal Prince: a composer-lyricist and a producer-director working together to re-invent the musical. Some were plotless (Company), some characterless (Pacific Overtures), one went backwards (Merrily We Roll Along). But, as his onetime choreographer Michael Bennett put it, before you can break the rules, you have to know what they are – and Sondheim knows America’s cultural heritage better then anybody. Follies (1971) is an affectionate and precise pastiche of Berlin, Kern, Gershwin, Dorothy Fields, Yip Harburg … With each new musical, he continues to test the limits of Broadway in plot, lyrics, music, or dialogue.
(Biography taken from various websites)
Nikki trained at Sylvia Young Theatre School and The Guildford School of Acting. She has just competed as a semi finalist in the BBC Radio 2 Voice of Musical Theatre Competition in Cardiff, which was also broadcast on Radio 2’s Friday Night is Music Night.
Prior to that Nikki appeared in Pippin at the Union Theatre in London, as Monique and understudy Victoria in Victor/Victoria at the Bridewell Theatre and Jack’s Mother in Into the Woods at the New Theatre, Oxford.
Nikki has also performed her solo cabaret at Pizza on the Park. Throughout 2004, Nikki could also be seen as the face of Kellogg’s Special K for their international Drop a Jeans Size Campaign. In addition, Nikki will be appearing in Tim Burton’s upcoming film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory released this summer.
Whilst at Guildford she performed the roles of Desiree Armfeldt in A Little Night Music at the Electric Theatre, Queen Victoria in Jack The Ripper and Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd. Other roles include Eva Peron in Evita, Cinderella in Into The Woods and Anytime Annie in 42nd Street. Nikki also played Jackie Kennedy in the UK premiere of Kennedy at the Hampton Hill Playhouse.
Susie has worked in the UK, Middle East and South Africa in Theatre, Television, Film & Radio. She graduated with distinction from the Post Graduate Course in Musical Theatre at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Although coming from a performance background, her foray into the world of production has proved most successful both in London and internationally. Recent acting credits in London include: Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, Shadowless (new musical at the Bridewell), Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Lucy in Three Penny Opera UK tour, Sally Bowles in Cabaret (RAM), Millament in The Way of the World (Pentameters), Gwendolyn in the four act Importance of Being Earnest, and in South Africa: Tuptim in The King and I (Civic Theatre), Collette in La Cage Aux Folles (State Theatre) and Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
As a producer Susie is an associate producer with Tenth Planet Productions and is producer for Sh! Production Co. Production credits include Art on tour in the Gulf, Stones In His Pockets on tour in the Gulf & Singapore, How the Other Half Loves, Relatively Speaking, Rough Crossing (London and Gulf Tours), London Suite (UK Premiere and tour to Gulf), Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell (Upstairs at the Gatehouse), Diva Eve and The Big Comeback (UK Premiere).
Andrew trained at LAMDA. Theatre includes Don Carlos (Gielgud and Sheffield Crucible), Cinderella (Eye Theatre), The Goat (Apollo), The Simple Truth (Bridewell), Walking Out (Proteus Theatre Co), Abigails Party (Whitehall and national tour), Waiting For Lefty (BAC), Golden Boy (Greenwich Theatre), Macbeth and Travels With My Aunt (national tours), Tartuffe (National Theatre) Epsom Downs, Antigone, The Wind In The Willows and The BFG (Nuffield, Southampton), Market Boy (National Theatre Studio), Art (Wyndhams and Whitehall), Look Back In Anger (national tour), Going Down In History (Garage, Edinburgh), Hamlet and The Merchant Of Venice (Orange Tree, Richmond), Medea (Queens), A Man With Connections (Minerva, Finborough and Arches), The Tempest (Young Shakespeare Company), Hay Fever (Savoy), Hansel & Gretel (Unicorn Theatre), A Small Family Business, Arcadia, Katherine Howard and Chimes At Midnight (Chichester Festival Theatre), Sexual Perversity In Chicago (Minerva Chichester), The Great Lucifer (Old Fire Station, Oxford), Noises Off (Brewhouse, Taunton), Peter Pan (Polka and Oxfordshire Touring Theatre Co) Othello (Edinburgh Festival/BAC) and The Alchemist, Julius Caesar and Columbus And The Discovery Of Japan (RSC). After this appearance in Side By Side By Sondheim, Andrew will be playing Laurie Clifford in Scenes From A Separation at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. Through July he plays Bottom in A Midsummer Nights Dream and Sir Francis Chesney in Charley’s Aunt in Queens Square, Bristol and then in August goes to the Edinburgh Festival to play Malcolm in Outliving The Hamster at the Gilded Balloon.
Television includes: British Empires, Crimewatch, Eastenders, The Bill, Death on the Mountain.
Film: Baked Potato, Deadbeat, Ave Maria, Hat, 501, and The Unmistakable Aroma of Custard.
Acclaimed cabaret artist, Tim has appeared at Don’t Tell Mama New York and across London at the Purcell Room, Pizza on the Park (Critic’s Choice, the Times), Jermyn Street Theatre, the New End Theatre, The Kings Head Islington, Montuno’s, No3 Green Street, Lauderdale House and supporting Julian Clary at the Savoy. Tim also presents a weekly showbiz interview show (recent interviews include Lesley Joseph, and writers of Mary Poppins, George Stiles & Anthony Drewe) for www.theatreradio.co.uk, co-presents a weekly show with Sadie Nine for BBC Radio London and the Sunday Supplement Show on Gaydar Radio. Previous Radio presenting has also included Radio 5.
A versatile performer, Tim McArthur has toured nationally with Helen Lederer in Helen Lederer’s One Night Stand, Cole (Upstairs at the Gatehouse), Forever Plaid (National Tour), Dangerous Cabaret (Jermyn Street Theatre), Company (Palace Theatre Westcliff), The Richard Blackwood Show (Channel 4), Fred Astaire His Daughter’s Tribute (London Palladium) and has supported Graham Norton. Earlier this year he performed as Feste in Twelfth Night at the Broadway Theatre.
Other work includes South Pacific, You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow, As You Like It, Another Country and Joseph. BBC Radio 2 credits include A Chorus Line, Sweet Charity, Kiss Me Kate and Fiddler On The Roof. Directing work includes Silver Heaven, Sex Love & Retro-Femininty, Euro-magic-Vision (Jermyn Street Theatre) and the European premiere of Seduction by Jack Heifner (Baron’s Court Theatre). He has also directed cabaret artistes Diva Eve and Rebecca Carrington. Presenting includes the Gladstone Park Music Festival and Classic FM Stage Mardi Gras London 2002.
Choreography credits include: Hot Mikado, Return to the Forbidden Planet (Upstairs at the Gatehouse and Castle Hall) White Wedding, Cole, It’s Only Make Believe, From a Jack to a King (Upstairs at the Gatehouse), Forever Plaid (London productions and national tour), Flopstar (Edinburgh Fringe Festival and The Kings Head Theatre London), Rough Crossing (Middle East Tour), Banging the Drum (YBS), Oliver!, Grease and Little Shop of Horrors (Queen’s College London), Emily Blunt’s latest music video (Sensation).
As well as directing and choreographing, Racky is involved with all aspects of theatre. She has recently returned from the Middle East where she was lighting designer on Art (Sh! Productions). She teaches stage management, dance and drama at Camden School for Girls and can sometimes be caught treading the boards of theatres around London. Her latest venture was singing jazz at the Kings Head Theatre with some of the hottest musicians in town!
Racky feels honoured to be working with such a talented team and hopes you enjoy this theatrical feast of some of Sondheim’s greatest material.
If it feels like deja vu reading this review, imagine what it feels like writing it. In fact you might even be able to write it yourself, so unsurprising is it that a tried and tested formula delivers such a charming musical.
When the Plews family take charge of a show at their Upstairs at the Gatehouse hideout in Highgate, they more often than not hit the mark – and Side by Side is no exception.
This time Racky Plews (those paying attention over the years won’t need telling that she is the daughter of theatre bosses John and Katie, and a teacher at Camden School for Girls) is in the director’s seat.
She follows up last summer’s musical tribute at the Gatehouse to Cole Porter with a similar homage to master musical lyricist Stephen Sondheim.
There’s no storyline to worry about – just sort of on-stage documentary of Sondheim’s writing career with a pleased-with-himself narrator chuckling his way through a This is Your Life binder.
The chat is perforated with 29 songs varying from hushed ballads to big, brash burlesque routines.
When the idea was first conceived 30 years ago, it was to have three players sauntering through the songs on bar stools.
But Plews shakes things up with some eye-popping costumes and a breathless chase around the simple set. Unfair critics say that it’s a revamp that lacks maturity but to reach such a conclusion, misunderstands what is a brave, and for the most part successful, attempt to do things differently.
There are spotlight moments for James Pearson and Nikki Gerrard but the star of the show is clearly Susie Harriet, who is just as ease with slow ballads as she is with the comic songs.
She injected magic into I’m Not Getting Married with a breakneck delivery which is worth paying the ticket fee for alone – but I fell in love with her during the raunchy Boy That Boy Can Foxtrot – you are left with a show that sends you home singing and smiling – and you can’t ask for more than that.
In 1975 David Kernan, while sppearing Stephen Sondheim’s ‘A Little Night Music’, was asked to provide a fund-raising show for Cleo Laine and John Dankworth’s music venue at Wavendon, so he and Ned Sherrin put together what became ‘Side By Side By Sondheim’, a distillation of the work Sondheim had written up until then. Sondheim’s response was that he couldn’t think of anything more boring “except possibly the Book of Kells!”.
But, the show took off, played the Mermaid Theatre, transferred to the West End for three years and went on to success on Broadway.
In 1975 Kernan, Julia McKenzie and Millicent Martin performed the show as a theatrical concert, with the two women in designer dresses by Gina Fratini. At the Gatehouse, in Katie Plews’ imaginative production directed by daughter Racky Plews, each song is individually costumed like one-act plays. ‘You Must Meet My Wife’ from ‘A Little Night Music’ is played as a phone call between a man and his ex; ‘The Little Things You Do Together’ from ‘Company’ has a couple pushing a supermarket trolley; and ‘Everybody Says Don’t’ from ‘Anyone Can Whistle’ is sung by three brattish kids.
The trio are excellent and their versatility knows no bounds. Both Nikki Gerrard and Susie Harriet do the touching ballads with great empathy and also the raunchy stuff (‘You Gotta Get a Gimmick’) with great panache, while James Pearson is both touching and when called upon to appear en travesti (‘You Could Drive a Person Crazy’ and ‘You Gotta Get A Gimmick’) also it’s great to hear those Sondheim numbers once again.