Monday, November 29, 2010

Sometimes there is a particular thrill in seeing a performer who has consistently performed well through the years finally getting the moment to truly shine - it happened with Clarke Peters in PORGY AND BESS and now Tracie Bennett is receiving nightly standing ovations for recreating Judy Garland in Peter Quilter's END OF THE RAINBOW.

Although still best known from her stint in "Coronation Street" in the early 1980s, Tracie has for years been working away in theatres in the provinces and West End, in the process winning 2 Olivier Awards for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical out of 3 nominations. I suspect she will have to clear the mantelpiece for a few more and while there is no denying her achievement... Tracie, someone done rained on your Easter Parade.Sadly the play is annoying in the extreme - and the more I have dwelt on it, wanting to like it for the sake of Bennett's performance, the more I have wanted to kick it. Peter Quilter has, I presume, set out to write his own PIAF about Judy Garland's stay in London for 5 weeks over the new year of 1968/69 when she appeared at the Talk Of The Town but Mr. Quilter... you ain't no Pam Gems.

Quilter has been beavering away since 2001 on his subject when the first attempt LAST SONG OF THE NIGHTINGALE which starred Tracie Bennett as his un-named heroine came and went at the New End Theatre Hampstead. The play then popped up four years later in Australia with Caroline O'Connor in the lead who later reprised the role in Edinburgh.So here we are finally in the West End and the play does have the distinct whiff of something that has been toured to death just like the star it's depicting. It's hard to know where to start with this woeful script.

Particular moments where I ripped up the Trafalgar Studios carpet with my curled toes include when Hilton McRae's gay pianist tells Garland's overbearing husband-to-be that it will be the gays who will keep Judy alive long after she's dead - stressing the line so much one wonders if this is all Quilter wanted us to take from the show - and the obligatory scene where said gay pianist is briefly overcome with a heterosexual snogging fit.
Director Terry Johnson also needs a dry hard slap for the endless playing out of the consequences of Garland stealing pills from her pianist's bag which turn out to be his dog's mange pills, hours of business of Judy cocking her leg - not once but twice - then rolling on the floor to be tickled, barking, snuffling around the furniture - YES WE FUCKING GET IT!!!

There is no development of any of the three characters, no particular insights into the nature of fame or celebrity or any feeling that, as has been claimed by Liza Minnelli or Lorna Luft, even at her lowest ebb Judy was someone you just wanted to be around. Oh and don't get me started on William Dudley's idea to paint a carpet on the bare stage only for people to loudly clump all over it.
Hilton McRae as her diffident but caring pianist Anthony seems overwhelmed by Hurricaine Tracie and underplays laughlines to a worrying degree and Stephen Hagen is given no help in building the character of Mickey Deens into anything other than an over-bearing, joyless user. In a bizarre wordless moment at the end he moves towards Judy who shrinks away from him and he leaves... so this would be the same man she married a few months after these events took place?

But no, Quilter only allows the fictional Anthony to be the one who cares for Judy - and who of course delivers the obligatory "Judy Garland was found dead etc etc" verbal wikipedia obit at the end of the play. Where the evening takes off are in the moments when the action switches to the Talk Of the Town stage and Bennett is allowed to let rip into several Garland standards although there was a distinct whiff of "Tonight Matthew I will be..." about it - imagine my amusement to see she had in fact won a Celebrity Stars In their Eyes as Judy Garland. To be honest I also found it difficult to totally give myeslf over to the illusion as she looked more like Lucille Ball.

Capturing exactly Garland's soaring open-throated belt voice however, Tracie Bennett turned her songs into genuine showstoppers and took the roof off with an incredible version of THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY. It is typical of the botched thinking behind the production however that building to the obvious climax of OVER THE RAINBOW followed by her thoroughly deserved rapturous curtain call, Bennett suddenly launches into a coda of BY MYSELF which ruins the moment.To be honest in the duller moments of Quilter's play I was watching Tracie Bennett and thinking how much I would love to see her as a future Mama Rose in GYPSY.

One can only hope that she does not go the way of Lesley Mackie, the West End's last 'Judy' back in 1986. Yes she won a deserved Olivier Award for her performance - in an equally ho-hum piece it must be said - but all it got her was a supporting role in BRIGADOON and then she returned to her native Scotland never to grace the West End again.

Friday, November 26, 2010

On Monday the cold weather was swept aside for a few hours by immersing in the sunny warmth of David McAlmont's voice at a special gig at the Leicester Square Theatre being filmed and recorded for future release on dvd/cd.
I have been a fan of David's for a while now having seen him twice before as McAlmont and Butler when he and Bernard were touring their great BRING IT BACK album and I was lucky to see him two years ago doing a short set of Harold Arlen songs at the Festival Hall. However recently I have become more involved in his music since becoming part of his Facebook army of fans.

Realizing that the music business has changed beyond what artists have been accustomed to, David is seeking new ways of connecting with his audience and certainly has taken to the immediacy that Facebook offers - it is genuinely thrilling to connect with him personally as opposed to a page which is managed by PR companies.
David certainly made a jaw-dropping entrance on stage, appearing like a male Grace Jones in huge feather boa, dark silk suit, a black lace domino mask with vertical feather detailing and a headdress of gold autumnal leaves - oh and more flashing, glittery jewels than you could shake a stick at! When you are in the front row that's a lot to take in.

You gotta have something to bring to the table to make this outfit seem natural and McAlmont certainly has that. Drawing on all areas of his 18 year career, he gave us a memorable show with a marvellously thought-out setlist with some telling covers sprinkled throughout.As I said before David is seeking new ways of connecting with his audience - he said he had always hated the natural divide that being on stage brings - so he came up with the idea of everyone getting a number which corresponded to a question eg. Who? What? Why? Where? etc. and occasionally at the roll of a dice these questions could be asked as to the next song. It was certainly an interesting experiment in hearing his thoughts on certain songs and as to why they had been included. There were occasional longueurs but these can be forgiven when what is being attempted is so new.

He was complemented wonderfully by Guy Davies on piano, John Miller on drums and Neville Malcolm on bass with several appearances by surprise guest Bernard Butler - it was a particular joy to see them on stage together again. When they careened into their classic YES I was blinking back some very happy tears. It was great also to see them laughing and joking when David kept going off-piste during FALLING.The whole show was a highlight but among the songs that made me glad it was being recorded were SNOW, LOSE MY FAITH, WHO LOVES YOU. I'M A BETTER MAN, PLACED ASIDE and DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER.

Shirl was also returned to when he performed AS GOD IS MY WITNESS which he co-wrote for Bassey's THE PERFORMANCE album as well as a heartfelt version of NEVER, NEVER, NEVER which had him climbing off the stage and singing to the mother of a friend in the third row!

After leaving the stage to a standing ovation he returned to give us a final cover, a lovely version of Tom Waits' GRAPEFRUIT MOON which he sang as he slowly dressed to leave us with a scarf, overcoat, hat and gloves. The song ended with him slowly opening an umbrella and sauntering offstage - who says a gig can't be theatre too? Like Owen I was just a little disappointed that the opened umbrella didn't rain down glitter!

We are seeing him again in a few weeks time for a seasonal evening in a space that seats only 80 so I cannot wait to see him in an even more intimate space. Oh and the cherry on the evening's cake? Having my picture taken with David in the foyer before the show when he had his friend William Willcox ready with a camera to photograph him with his 'peops'.

Friday, November 19, 2010

For the second time this year a show has arrived in London I had seen on our NY trip in February: first was Diane Paulus' glorious production of HAIR and now we have Bill T. Jones' equally big 'n' colourful production FELA! I can't think what is keeping Bartlett Sher's SOUTH PACIFIC - NEXT TO NORMAL however can stay in the Booth Theatre where it belongs.

As is the case with HAIR, I enjoyed the London FELA! much more, with both shows I think I was too busy reacting to the show first time round than actually taking them in fully.

What lives in the memory of the NY version was that we saw it on the night of Snowmageddon when Manhattan was hit by a huge blizzard. It was such a sensory experience to step from the wintry streets into the colourful, vibrant auditorium recreating Fela Kuti's Lagos Shrine club - also it was a pleasure to FINALLY have friendly front-of-house staff, namely the bar girl who happily informed us we could take our drinks to our seats with "we're a party house here!"Re-reading my February blog - here it is - I find that what I didn't like about the show then still applies now. No amount of deliriously exciting choreography or hypnotic Afrobeat beats can disguise the frustratingly thin book by Jim Lewis and Bill T. Jones.

Despite vignettes in the first act about Fela's musical education which led to his developing the Afrobeat sound and his political education bizarrely courtesy of the Black Panthers while visiting America, the second act - despite one stunning coup-de-theatre which brought shocked gasps and exclamations from the rapt audience - meanders around before getting completely lost up it's own yanch via an extended dream ballet of Fela visiting the underworld which sadly only made me think of a "Talk Of The Town" floorshow routine with it's ultra-violet lighting and projections on a scrim. The book keeps Fela's actual political manifesto unknown, just that he was against the corrupt government, and his death from AIDS in 1997 is glossed over.What is undeniable however is the burning intensity of Sahr Ngaujah's performance as Fela, effortless charisma added to a natural ability to handle the more excitable members of the peanut gallery. It might not be the most sympathetic performance - Fela is a difficult character to empathise with - but Ngaujah's Tony-nominated performance makes you realise how Kuti could galvanise an audience. Hell, he even got all the Olivier audience up to dance about 20 minutes into the show!

The two main supporting roles of Fela's activist mother Funmilayo and his American mentor Sandra Izadore are played by Melanie Marshall and Paulette Ivory. Both are blessed with great voices and Marshall in particular is a joy to hear. Again however it is typical of this show that her big second act number - the only song written specifically for the show - is totally shapeless and meanders on interminably.As before, these three performances are supported by a phenomenal company of dancers who are worth the price of admission alone. As I said about the NY production, their wild, frantic and totally thrilling abandon is of course the result of the strictest discipline and for all the problems with the book, one wishes that Bill T. Jones just settled on the music and dancers telling Fela's story.

The Olivier is unrecognizable due to Marina Draghici's fabulous stage design which spreads out into the auditorium with huge colourful posters, paintings and strings of lights covering the walls and doors recreating the feel of Fela Kuti's Shrine club in his Kalakuti compound. Why has no designer ever done this before with this unique space? Robert Wierzel's lighting is also a major component for the show's overall success.A special mention too must go to the magnificent onstage band of 12 musicians who are the show's engine and keep the music coming with a richness of sound that is genuinely exciting.

So for all the problems mentioned with the non-existent book I would still recommend FELA! as a rare achievement in pure theatre.

"Say Yea-Yea!"

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Another Sunday, Another Sondheim!This time it was to see a concert version of Sondheim's 1970 groundbreaking musical COMPANY which reunited the cast members from the Donmar's 1995 production originally directed by Sam Mendes.

I must say from the off that COMPANY is a show that I find it hard to warm to - the score yes, the show no. The story - or non-story - of Robert arriving at his 35th birthday and being finally forced to confront his single status and commitment phobia has just never connected with me. The show was originally a series of one-act plays by George Furth and I have always felt that it has never managed to transcend that. The long and the short of it is - I can't be arsed about any of the characters, no matter how amusing they are.

I felt this performance wasn't as cohesive as last Sunday's MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG which I guess is the fault of director Jamie Lloyd. I had hoped I was over my distrust of Lloyd and his more-speed-instead-of-haste approach after enjoying his production of PASSION but, opposed to Rob Ashford's MERRILY which had a depth and vibrant performances despite the concert setting, here it felt the actors had turned up, had read what was on the sheet in front of them and moved to where they were told to move to.

Some of the performers still managed to shine - Adrian Lester can still pull off the trick of making Robert a three-dimensional character and his singing of the classic BEING ALIVE was wonderfully vibrant and, yes, alive. He won the Olivier Award for this role and it's still easy to see why.

It was nice to see Rebecca Front and Clive Rowe as his married friends Sarah and Harry who are still sniping away at each other about his drinking and her eating fads, Gareth Snook as married man Peter was still clumsily trying to make a pass at Robert and the three girls who Robert is keeping hanging were very well played by Anna Francolini as the manic Marta, Summer Strallen as Kathy and Katherine Kingsley as air stewardess April.

To be honest, my main reason for wanting to see the show was to see Sophie Thompson again as Amy, the scatterbrained girlfriend of Michael Simkin's Paul who despite everything was NOT GETTING MARRIED TODAY. Once again Sophie stopped the show with the song and nailed the humour and the pathos in the scene following it.

Sophie was nominated for the Olivier Award for this performance but lost to co-star Sheila Gish who played Elaine Stritch's landmark role as Joanne, the hard-drinking, sardonic older married woman who has Robert in her sights.

Sadly Sheila Gish died five years ago - the show was dedicated to her memory - and it was stated "It’s our job to honour Sheila by getting somebody brilliant in that role" Somebody brilliant must have had her mobile turned off as we got Haydn Gwynne. She was o.k. but it would have been amazing to see someone like Frances Barber play it.

Gareth Valentine was again Music Director and did a fantastic job with a fine nine-piece onstage band in punching over Sondheim's constantly surprising score. Shame about that damn book.

And so endeth the year of Sondheim celebrations... unless someone would like to squeeze in a quick production of THE FROGS?

Saturday, November 06, 2010

You know what you have in store when the lights go down in a West End auditorium and the curtain goes up on a set that elicits a panto-style "Oooooooo" followed by a appreciative round.

Welcome to the Garrick Theatre and the revival of J.B. Priestley's WHEN WE ARE MARRIED.

I had seen this cosy comedy before when it was last revived in 1986 at the Whitehall Theatre in a production directed by the late Ronald Eyre. Needless to say, there are a few more lates from that production - Bill Fraser, Patsy Rowlands, Kathy Staff and John Stratton. I seem to remember it being... well, cosy.

Well... it's still cosy but having seen a few more Priestley plays since then I can see that underneath the gentility it still deals with his favorite subject of the passage of time.In a Yorkshire milltown in 1908, three well-to-do couples are celebrating their silver wedding anniversaries having all been married on the same day by the same vicar when they discover to their horror that he was not authorised to officiate at nuptials so technically they are not married.

Once the secret is out, the couples see each other with new eyes - hen-pecked and browbeaten spouses assert themselves for the first time as the 'lower orders' also let 'their betters' know exactly what they think of them.Add into the mix an ageing manhunter from Blackpool and a boozy photographer who has been asked to take an anniversary picture of the couples and you have a very English farce of manners and, of course, class.

Priestley's comedy runs like clockwork and hey if it ain't broke.... However there is little chance that it will ever be fashionable, unlike Stephen Daldrey's re-interpreting of AN INSPECTOR CALLS, as Priestley only toys with the sudden liberating possibilities for the main characters - hidden grudges are aired while the husband from one couple and the wife from another verge on the possibility of starting their old romance again - before suddenly providing an abrupt ending that restores the status quo. It is as if the idea of their starting again scares Priestley as much as his characters.There are moments when Christopher Luscombe's direction hints at the darker undercurrents of the play but these are brought out more by the subtle playing of the main cast.

Simon Rouse and David Horovitch splutter for all their worth as the two husbands with the most to lose socially while Sam Kelly is a delight as the henpecked worm that turns - his lip-smacking delight while savouring a forbidden drink is comedy gold. Maureen Lipman is in splendid form as the domineering wife who is brought to heel but Susie Blake seemed oddly anonymous as the social-climbing wife of the alderman. The surprise of the evening was Michele Dotrice who, while resembling a guinea-pig in an Edwardian dress, reveals a killer sense of comic timing especially when deflating her husband's presumption that she would want to marry him again.The supporting cast are led superbly by Roy Hudd who brings all his comic timing to bear in the role of Ormonroyd the drunk photographer - he does a double-take that's worth the price of admission alone! The lower orders are played robustly by Lynda Barron as the plain-speaking cook Mrs. Northrup and Jodie McNee as the back-chatting servant Ruby - in the Ronald Eyre production Ruby was played like Su Pollard with brain damage (I will allow you a minute to suffer that thought along with me) so McNee's delightful turn was particularly welcome.

As I said, Simon Higlett's Edwardian drawing room with no surface knowingly uncovered in lace, damask or ornaments caused near pandemonium when the curtain rose and he is know doubt receiving fan-mail from the home counties by the van-load.WHEN WE ARE MARRIED does exactly what is expected of it and while it won't change anyone's life, there is no denying the pleasure in seeing such comedy expertese in one place. Would that all West End revivals were such fun.
It was with some sadness I read last night about the death of Jill Clayburgh at the age of 66. Some actresses seem to suddenly be in the right place at the right time and Clayburgh is a prime example of this.

She had appeared on stage during the 1970s - she was the ingenue in Bob Fosse's musical PIPPIN - as well as appearing on TV and in small roles in big films that did little business.

In 1976 she appeared to have blown her big-screen career playing Carole Lombard in the leaden biopic GABLE AND LOMBARD but she also appeared as Gene Wilder's love interest in the comedy thriller hit SILVER STREAK. Jill also held her own the next year opposite Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson in SEMI-TOUGH.

Then in 1978 Paul Mazursky cast her as the title role in his film AN UNMARRIED WOMAN which was a massive hit in the U.S. Clayburgh's Erica, dumped by her husband for a younger woman and discovering life on her own, hit a chord in the "We've Come A Long Way Baby" phase of American feminism and she won the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival (shared with Isabelle Huppert for VIOLETTE NOZIERE) as well as being nominated for the Academy Award.The film has been mostly forgotten these days - Erica's untroubled upper-East Side lifestyle (Clayburgh's home turf in NY) and Mazursky's contention that her new status only lead to a choice between chauvinist artist lover, returning husband or soulful artist lover - has I presume given it a doubtful reputation but it catapulted Clayburgh up the rankings to join Jane Fonda, Marsha Mason, Diane Keaton and Sissy Spacek as the late 70s heroines of American film.

She ended the decade in two contrasting films: reuniting with Burt Reynolds in the gentle comedy STARTING OVER which won her a second Academy Award nomination as well as becoming the latest in a long line of American actors to appear in crap English language films directed by European art house directors, the execrable LA LUNA directed by Bernardo Bertolucci.
1980 saw her co-starring with Michael Douglas in the romantic comedy IT'S MY TURN and with Walter Matthau in the political comedy FIRST MONDAY IN OCTOBER. However her next film I'M DANCING AS FAST AS I CAN - a Valium addiction drama based on a true story - was meant to be a big star vehicle for her but was a box-office flop and her film career fatally stalled.

She had married the playwright David Rabe in 1979 and she gave birth to daughter Lily - now a respected stage actress - in 1982. She returned to the theatre in 1984 in a revival of Coward's DESIGN FOR LIVING with Frank Langella and Raul Julia and settled down to a career of character roles in films and TV - she was ALLY McBEAL's mother and Donald Sutherland's wife in DIRTY SEXY MONEY in 2007 - with occasional appearances on stage such as the 2006 revival of BAREFOOT IN THE PARK.

It appears that she was diagnosed with Leukemia at the end of the 1980s and this illness has now claimed her.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Last night Pedro Almódovar joined the cast - including Patti LuPone and Laura Benanti - and director Bartlett Sher of the new Broadway musical WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN which of course is based on his 1988 comedy classic.

Pedro, I'd bank that cheque now... here's a sampling of the reviews:

New York Times: ...(the cast) here seem to be preoccupied with other matters, like where they'll be having dinner after the show. In that sense, I identified with them completely.

USA Today: ...(Lupone) like many on WOMEN ON THE VERGE's illustrious team, deserves better. So do audiences.

LA Times: Pepa.. is played here by Sherie Rene Scott, a charming musical theater musical star but one with about as much Mediterranean earthiness as Barbara Bush or Paris Hilton.

Time Out: There's a 20-foot-high recipe for gazpacho printed on the curtain... If only a giant recipe for making a decent musical had been available to the makers of this major Broadway letdown.

On Tuesday evening Owen and I were exposed to a force of nature - no not Bob Crow and the striking Tube workers - but the awesome Mary J. Blige at the O2 aka BackOfBeyond2.

We saw Mary in 2008 when she was promoting GROWING PAINS and were blown away by her powerful presence on stage. Up until then, although I had enjoyed her albums, I was always wary of seeing her. On the way to Greenwich I read something that reminded me of the first time I heard of her - and why I had doubts about seeing her live.

There was much vocal discontent at the Forum on Monday night when Big Boi from Outkast performed a set which was - with encore - less than an hour. Back in the day when I worked at First Call, I remember a quiet midweek evening being interrupted by phone calls from angry punters outside the Hammersmith Apollo complaining that they had paid good money to see the new NY hip-hop sensation - one Mary J. Blige - who was on and offstage within 45 minutes. We were quickly told by the promoters to remind them that the event was just billed as a "Personal Appearance" but I remember sympathising with their complaints and, despite liking her a lot when I finally got to hear her, remembering those angry calls.

Well that was then... and this is mos' def' Now!The evening got off to a great start with finally hooking up with blog pal David of David's Daily Dramas albeit sitting in the atmosphere-free zone that is the O2 exclusive bar! It was nice to finally hook-up - after 3 years of trying. Doing this we also eschewed the charms of support act Lemar.

We had seats in Block 102 so were relatively close to the stage and after an opening aural soundscape of Mary's name being read out at award shows, news broadcasts and celeb endorsements, the stage was ablaze with light and there she was launching straight into the fabulously autobiographical MJB DA MVP and we were off.With great lighting accentuating her gun-metal lurex cat-suit, Mary staggered and swaggered across the stage, stomping and swaying to her backing band. She looked sensational - and apart from two homies who appeared occasionally to bounce around ineffectually behind her - she was out there on her own... no dancers to take up the slack every 20 minutes or so, no pyrotechnical displays, only one quick costume change... just Mary and her voice.

Mary always give good value too, each song usually are mini-medleys of at least three of her songs which can be infuriating - just as you think "Oh Wow I love this one", she's moved on to the verse and chorus of another song! However, when you have 18 years of material to draw on you might as well do as many as you can. Oddly enough it means she never concentrates on her latest album as most artists would and there were quite a few tracks from STRONGER WITH EACH TEAR that I was expecting to hear but didn't. I would have given plenty of 8 to 5 that she would have done her volcanic cover of WHOLE LOTTA LOVE - it was after all issued on the UK release of SWET (ew) - but we were left wanting.

She sounded utterly fantastic, soulful and strong, and she gave us fierce renditions of REAL LOVE, YOUR CHILD (with a wonderfully angry sung denouncement of all fathers not dealing with "your respon-si-bil-it-y" which got an awesome response from the audience) and EVERYTHING. She misjudged how well the audience knew the lyrics to Chaka Khan's SWEET THING but there were no such problems with the mass choir on NOT GON' CRY and in particular on I'M GOIN' DOWN - I was belting it out!She ended the show with a scorching version of the NO MORE DRAMA - an ironic experience as Mary *always* brings the drama singing it, her powerful voice seemingly whipping her about the stage and leaving her (and us) breathless at it's conclusion. She encored with one of my all-time favorites JUST FINE as well as FAMILY AFFAIR and BE WITHOUT YOU.Even the usual Hell of getting away from the O2 hasn't dimmed the power that Miss Mary put out... All hail the Queen.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

If there were any doubts that Stephen Sondheim is theatre royalty then this year's extended celebrations for his 80th birthday proves it. But then if anyone deserves to be celebrated it's our Steve.

The Donmar are paying tribute to the great man with their production of PASSION but they also are honouring two previous Sondheim shows they have staged with concert performances at the Queens Theatre with the original cast members. The first show was very appropriate for the subject of looking back, MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG.

Based on the 1934 play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, the story charts the disillusion and falling-out of three seemingly close friends only the action takes place in reverse so we start in 1980 with Frank, Charlie and Mary no longer speaking, through all the compromises and betrayals that erodes their friendship to the final scene which shows them all meeting for the first time on a NY rooftop to watch Sputnik overhead in 1957. The device is hugely affecting, by the time you reach the end you feel for the three young people, so wide-eyed with hope and optimism for the future which you know will founder on the rocks of distrust, infidelity, compromise and alcohol.

I was curious to know exactly how they were going to stage this - surely they couldn't just sing the songs with maybe an onstage narrator filling in the blanks? Luckily no, we got the full show acted out although with no costumes and in between lecterns set up across the stage. I was worried that Owen, who had not seen the show, would not be able to get into the story but luckily the performances more than made up for any lack of trappings.
Reprising their roles as Mary, Charlie and Franklin were Samantha Spiro, Daniel Evans and Julian Ovenden and it was a delight to see them together again, they obviously enjoy each other's company as much as we did! All three were in fine voice and transcended the bare stage and their fellow cast members sitting in a semi-circle at the back of the stage to flesh out their characters and their stories.

Also I should mention the scene-stealing Anna Francolini as Gussie, I had quite forgotten what an excellent character the book writer George Furth created in her - the bitchy, egomaniacal Broadway star who becomes Frank's second wife. Fine support too was provided by Mary Stockley as Beth, Frank's first wife and James Millard as the crass but caring Broadway producer Joe Josephson.

And of course it was a joy to hear Sondheim's blissful score 'live' again - with songs of the calibre of "Not A Day Goes By", "Good Thing Going" and "Our Time" it is truly one of his most under-rated scores. I don't mind telling you I was a-blub for most of the second half.

Unbelievably there are still people who purport to love the theatre who still fail to recognise Sondheim's unique place within it - surely anyone who has been able to experience in the space of the last few months his individual scores for ASSASSINS, PASSION, INTO THE WOODS and now MERRILY must surely be able to understand exactly why he is to be celebrated as he has this year.

This Sunday sees a similar concert performance of COMPANY with the cast of the Donmar's 1995 production - I cannot wait!