Sondheim On Sondheim

Reginald Theatre, October 3 

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Dean Vince, Debora Krizak, Blake Erickson, Rob Johnson and Phillip Lowe. Photo: Michael Francis.

What an idea James Lapine had. Stephen Sondheim’s collaborator conceived of a show in which arguably the cleverest song-writer and lyricist of the last 60 years would be filmed talking about writing this song or that show, about his childhood and his art. Between snatches of interview relevant songs would be performed live.

For anyone with the vaguest interest in Sondheim or song-writing this is gripping. The super-sophisticated lyricist talks, for instance, about keeping the words simple enough to be absorbed on first listening. We learn of his love of collaboration and of how he considers Assassins his most polished show, while Sunday In The Park With George is his favourite. We hear about (and hear) songs that were cut from and added to shows, and why. He shows us his working method, including the efficacy of soft lead pencils and liquor.

Interviews and stills from yesteryear mingle with show-specific footage, and the live songs are invigorated by his explanations and the unexpected juxtapositions.

In fact Sondheim is so compelling that he is a hard act for the eight performers and eight-piece orchestra to follow. Nonetheless Blake Erickson, Rob Johnson, Louise Kelly, Debora Krizak, Phillip Lowe, Monique Salle (also the choreographer), Christy Sullivan and Dean Vince performed the songs with ample panache under the imaginative and energised direction of Jay James-Moody (for the Squabbalogic company). Krizak, who has several of the best roles and songs, generally maximised their potential, and despite overplaying Send In The Clowns she still kissed the emotional bullseye.

Created from discarded sheet music James-Moody’s set is ingenious. Less perfect was the over-amplified sound, robbing the show of intimacy. The orchestra (under Hayden Barltrop) had some awkward moments with intonation at the start of each act, but settled thereafter.

Highlights included Lowe’s Sweeney Todd excerpt and Erickson’s from Sunday in the Park – a show where Sondheim had already illuminated the nature of art, aesthetics and the creative impulse.

Until October 18.