Directed by: Emma Kinane
Running at Circa Theatre until 22nd Mar 2019
Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson
Side by Side by Sondheim honours the great Stephen Sondheim with a total of 55 songs by the man himself – 27 of which are performed as a medley, assures Matthew Pike. The composer and lyricist behind such celebrated musicals as Into the Woods, Company, and Sweeney Todd, and the witty wordsmith responsible for hits like Tonight and I Feel Pretty, Sondheim is arguably the greatest American musical theatre artist around today. Dazzling, glamorous, elegant, and brimming with astronomical talent, this show feels every bit the fitting tribute.
With musical director Michael Nicholas Williams and Colin Taylor on a grand piano apiece, Side by Side by Sondheim was always going to be – well, grand. But these musicians are more than just impressive. They play flawlessly, capturing the spirit of Sondheim with doses of humour and gall, especially during interactions with singers Pike, Julie O’Brien, and Sarah Lineham. Williams and O’Brien’s raunchy rendition of I Never Do Anything Twice is one of my show highlights.
With a powerful and inimitable voice that gets deep into your bones, O’Brien is striking. She’s hilarious too; just watch her waddle and effectively rap during Getting Married Today.
Lineham surprises me with an unexpected vigour and a phenomenal range in You Gotta Get A Gimmick. Prior to this piece, her voice is delicate, soft, and lovely, tinkling above the action. She follows up the ‘gimmick’ (hint: there’s a trumpet involved), with an affecting aria. Losing My Mind is the most emotionally resonant moment of the show for me.
Every moment Pike is on stage seems effortless. He glides through the musical with ease and consistency. His voice is pure and unforced, acting as an anchor to O’Brien and Lineham’s. It reaches their heights when he sings in falsetto for a fleeting moment that catches my breath in my chest.
Side by Side by Sondheim is a great excuse to get dressed up, pop the bubbly, and enjoy a wonderful night out at the theatre.