Side By Side By Sondheim 30th Anniversary Gala

Sunday 21 May 2006, The Novello Theatre


Review by Emma Shane

© 23 May 2006


I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to see yet another glitzy Sondheim Gala in a West End Theatre. Well it’s the third in the space of about half a year! However, this time we were promised Ms Millicent Martin, Mr David Kernan, and, Ms Julia McKenzie as the stars of the show, and thirty years of Side By Side By Sondheim is something to celebrate, so I decided to go, but up in the gallery. This proved to be a different and very interesting experience to watching a show from the stalls, some performers come across much better than others from up here. The stage has a projection screen backdrop, which initially has a depiction of the three stars of tonight’s show, Ms Millicent Martin, Mr David Kernan, and, Ms Julia Mckenzie on it (later this altered to other backdrops). Presently the pianists, Mr Mark V. Dorrell, and, Mr Michael Haslam enter, along with their lady page turners (who were uncredited), take their places. Soon the stars of the show Ms Martin, Mr Kernan, and, Ms McKenzie enter and take their places centre stage, striking a pose to copy the backdrop. The pianists strike up and they all launch into Comedy Tonight. Half way through, or perhaps a little more, they break off into an excerpt of I’m Still Here, only changed to We’re Still Here, which I thought was a lovely touch and very appropriate to this evening. After returning to Comedy Tonight they launch briefly into Company and are joined on stage by most if not all of tonight’s company. I thought that a nice touch too, because that way we know who is here, and aren’t wondering if the line up will have changed since the programme was printed. Comedy Tonight came across brilliantly, even if some of the lyrics got a bit lost in the applause. It certainly worked far far better than at the Drury Lane gala last November. The best thing about this number was that it was performed joyously, but without descending into silliness. Like mostly everything else this evening it contained good performances, some very funny ones, but never going too far In many ways it set a standard for the whole evening, and in fact summed it up: Something familiar (a good number of tonight’s performers have appeared in productions of Side By Side by Sondheim), something peculiar (some variations of well known numbers were peculiar to say the least), Old Situations, new complications (The familiar trio of old stagers, still here, though older), Something for everyone (wherever your Sondheim taste lie there was probably something to enjoy), Nothing that’s normal (could a gala evening of Side By Side By Sondheim with a few TV comedy legends around ever be normal?), No recitations to recite (well actually there were a few, from Mr Kernan), frenzy and frolic, stunning surprises (both in terms of the odd performer not in the programme, and some unusual performances), Mistakes (actually I didn’t notice any, apart from one that was choreographed), concluding with And a happy ending of course.

Opening number over, narrator Mr Ned Sherrin takes his place, at a narrator’s stand, bottom stage right. Everybody else exits, leaving Ms Millicent Martin and Ms Julia McKenzie on the stage. Mr Sherrin introduces the show, with some old jokes – how many of those are we going to get this evening? Thankfully not too many. Then it’s onto If Mama Were Married. For once director Mr David Kernan has resisted the temptation to make a joke out of one cast member sharing her forename with Gypsy Rose Lee by having her sing that part in the song. Instead the number is performed by Ms Millicent Martin and Ms Julia McKenzie. Of course really both are far too old to be convincing as a couple of stage kids, so having them do this number might be described as a bit camp (to quote I’m Still Here), especially Ms McKenzie’s not really managing to “jump in the air”. However, it was well acted, both give it a good go; and Ms Martin certainly surprised us all with a little arabesque for “I can do some tricks”, she can indeed.

On with Mr Sherrin’s introduction, and the marriage theme. Time for some updated jokes, mentions that the sentiments expressed in The Little Things You Do Together might nowadays apply to many more people (society has moved on from the days when Mr David Kernan appeared in a TW3 sketch about parliamentary fairies).

You Must Meet My Wife was performed pretty well by Steven Pacey & Janie Dee. To my mind they did not quite make it their own, as memories of earlier performances, such as Mr Kernan and Ms Martin on the recording, and in my humble opinion certain memorable performance in the Chelmsford revival do linger. The number got cut from the twenty-fifth Anniversary over five years ago, so it was nevertheless good to see it done justice for the thirtieth.

The Little Things You Do Together reunites the singers who played the roles of Katisha/ Margaret Thatcher and The Mikado/Michael Hesaltine in The Metropolitan Mikado twenty years ago, Robert Meadmore, and, Louise Gold. They enter together from top stage left, Robert leading Louise by the hand. Louise is dressed, as she was in the opening number, in smart black trousers, and her short tailored white jacket. Then as they go to take their places on two stools at the front of the stage, Louise accidentally-on-purpose starts to sit down on the wrong stool. The audience give a polite laugh, as if not quite sure how to respond. But some of us realised it was choreographed, and I for one was thoroughly glad to see Louise’s subtle comic abilities put to good use. The number itself is a very funny one, especially when Louise elects to raise her left leg such that her left foot is resting on her right knee. I don’t know why she did that, but it made the number just that bit more interesting, and one can rely on Louise to be interesting. There is strong interplay between Louise and Robert, two convincing singers who are clearly used to working together. They make a fine team. It is often a good idea to pair Louise in a duet with a performer she is already used to working with, because they’ve learnt how to respond to the oddities of her performance. It also made a change to hear Louise sing this number, as I’ve not heard her sing it before, when I saw the Chelmsford revival of Side By Side By Sondheim Robert Meadmore sang it with Liz Robertson, who I think is quite a hard act to follow. However, Louise, being the first rate performer that she is, does of course make it her own.

Getting Married Today is one of those songs that has become something of a standard, and yet it seems hard to get it right. Rebecca Lock did very well as the narrator, as did Edward Baker-Duly as The Groom. However, Eliza Lumley gave a somewhat mixed performance as The Bride. She sings well, and has a strong voice (I noticed that when I saw her in Mary Poppins). However, I found it hard to tell what her character was supposed to be thinking. Was she Barking Mad? or simply against marriage as an institution? The choreography didn’t help either. Nevertheless it was well sung.

The programme lists Mr Ned Sherrin for the next bit of narration, however, it turns out to be Janie Dee who came on to introduce, as she put it “two of my favourite leading ladies”, these being Maureen Lipman and Louise Gold in Can That Boy Foxtrot. But first up Mr David Kernan sings I Remember Sky. He is a splendid actor, who makes this song very much his own. Mr Kernan after all was the man responsible thirty years ago for bending the gender of a number of Sondheim songs, this being one of them. He has always, and continues, to do it with such skill and conviction, that even if, like me, you are not normally too keen on songs undergoing a sex change, one can’t help but enjoy it when he does them.

Enter Maureen Lipman in a black dress, or was it a skirt and blouse? with a bright red feather boa, and Louise Gold – who has now exchanged her white jacket for her black loose semi-transparent top, and a large bright purple feather boa, whose feathers were larger than Maureen’s red one, as was very obvious when one of these fluttered to the floor in the middle of the number. Maureen’s boa shed one or two of it’s feathers too, but this was less noticeable. As one would expect, both sang well, but they also acted the number, with Louise hugging Maureen briefly during it, and much more obviously at the end. Besides singing they also danced, a bit, which gave Louise an opportunity to demonstrate her neat graceful footwork. Can That Boy Foxtrot is a mechaieh of a number, as sung, or rather performed, by two such jolly vivacious tummlers. They make a great pair of giggling schoolgirls, or for that matter meshuggeneh follies girls, with an infectious zest for life.

The next introduction by Trevor McDonald was a good one, especially as amongst the clutch of numbers he covered was Barcelona, which he put properly into context as being a man waking up after a night with an air hostess (he didn’t actually say it was a one night stand, but that was implied by the way he said it). Can That Boy Foxtrot was a tough act to follow, and Alison Jiear’s rendition of Another Hundred People was perhaps not the best thing to try and follow it with. She sings clearly, and with obvious sincerity; but at a slower tempo which didn’t seem to suit the song too well in the context of this gala. Remember it was originally introduced in Side By Side By Sondheim by that great mistress of fast tempo singing Ms Millicent Martin. There are some fast tempo numbers, for example Getting Married Today, which don’t seem to suffer too much when slowed down, I’m afraid I was not entirely convinced about this being one of them.

Barcelona is performed so well with such accomplishment by Mr David Kernan and Ms Julia McKenzie, who have both performed this so often, and know exactly what to do with it, that really there isn’t much left to say about it, except that it was Mr Kernan and Ms McKenzie at their best.

Fortunately it was followed by another reliable performer, Robert Meadmore singing Marry Me A Little. He sings it good and strong, with conviction, and does it justice, just as one would expect.

Then, a rather last minute addition (well it wasn’t in the programme), Being Alive, performed by the rather good looking Adrian Lester, and he sings pretty decently too, and got great applause.

Christopher Biggins takes the narrator’s stand, to pretty heavy applause, manages to keep his jokes appropriate to the evening, very much in the style of Mr Ned Sherrin and Mr David Kernan; and introduces the first lady to sing political satire on British television, on the BBC of all places, namely That Was The Week That Was veteran Ms Millicent Martin.

On comes Ms Millicent Martin, having added to her costume the same black and grey feather boa she had for this number, I Never Do Anything Twice, in the Drury Lane gala last November. This time there was no piano climbing, she simply sits on a stool by the piano to sing. It is a brilliant well polished performance, to which she brings all of her considerable experience. Just perfect for a true star turn.

Another veteran, Mr Sheridan Morely takes the narrators stand, mainly to make it clear that he is not Mr Ned Sherrin, they are two different people. However he is witty, and introduces a clutch of songs from Follies.

With Beautiful Girls, I couldn’t help feeling we might be in for a jolly treat. It starts off well with Edward Baker-Duly, standing centre stage right singing pleasantly.  A selection of “girls” from the assembled company, I am not sure if it included all of them (but it certainly did include Ms Martin and Ms Mckenzie amongst others) walked across the stage. Each “girl” entered from bottom stage right, displayed a nice por de bras, to the audience, then walked up to exit back stage left. The first few did this quite normally. Then it is Louise Gold’s turn. She does that arm movement display just a bit faster and more strongly than anyone else, that in itself is pretty lively, but there is more to come; with her left arm still leaving high above her head she dances across the stage, as she curves round past Edward Baker-Duly she turns to face him, so that we get a second display as she brings her arms down and throws them open towards him (in a manner rather like that often used by performers at the end of a show to salute the orchestra). This extra display of course almost totally upstages the next girl coming on stage, I can’t even remember who that was! Louise finally dances off to her exit. The penultimate girl (whoever she was) has to pull Mr Baker-Duly into the centre of the stage, and the final girl in the number gently pushes him off stage (exiting bottom stage right); clearing the way for Ann Emery to enter back stage left for the next number. It was all very funny but in my humble opinion the best thing of all about it was the delightful mazilk Louise Gold working her muppet magic to live up to her reputation for livening up this number, in her own beautiful special way.

Beautiful Girls was another hard act to follow, and while Ann Emery’s rendition of Ah Paree is adequate, and certainly better than some versions I’ve heard, she is no Belinda Lang, but it is ok.

With Buddy’s Blues we get a really classy performance from Simon Green and Gay Soper. (Actually it’s only the first half of the song) These two understand what to do with a comedy number, and I thought it great. This song is so often taken a bit too over the top by rather inexperienced youngsters. I really like Gay’s subtle refined performance. I get rather fed up with it being turned into a grotesque parody, so it’s rather nice to hear it sung so well with simple refinement.

It’s always a joy to see Joan Savage perform Broadway Baby. She is brilliant as ever: enthusiastic, convincing, and well once again there really isn’t much else one can say about it.

The final introduction of the first half is given by Mr Nicholas Parsons, whose own jokes describing The Andrew’s Sisters make a nice change from Mr Ned Sherrin’s (there’s nothing wrong with Mr Sherrin’s jokes, it’s just that we’ve all heard so many of them so often before).

You Could Drive A Person Crazy brings Eliza Lumley to the fore as Maxine. She does it well. However, Liz Robertson’s dancing (as Patty) is well worth watching. Julia Sutton’s Laverne is not as effective. Indeed Liz Robertson’s performance is so good that she almost steels the number. Fortunately it is not for nothing that Ms Lumley is currently employed as a West End principal alongside two of the biggest, one might say, scene stealers, in the business, so she copes pretty well.

Before we can go to the bar, Trevor McDonald returns with someone else (not sure who), to explain about the charity The Shooting Star Children’s Hospice that this gala is supporting. I felt this was not a bad place to put that bit in the show.


The second act opens with Everybody Says Don’t sung by half a dozen young performers just starting out on their careers as grown up performers, namely: Lucy Garrioch, Shinead Byrne, Rachael Archer, Darren Paisley, John Jo Flynn, and, Matthew McKenna, from the Arts Educational School Drama Group. Although they clearly have a lot to learn they do a good convincing job, are not over showy, and, they move nicely too, as one would expect from a bunch from Arts Ed.

Mr Derek Fowlds is the next narrator, his involvement with Side By Side By Sondhiem is largely that he was Mr David Kernan’s lodger at that time, or as he put it, Mr Kernan was his “landlady”, I don’t know why he doesn’t say landlord in this context (but then what do I know about English grammar? – not much). He recounts how he suggested they call the show Send In The Clowns, and then introduces the next number.

Anyone Can Whistle as sung by Mr David Kernan is another of those moments, where it is such excellent perfection, and exactly what one would expect from such a polished professional, doing a number they have done many times before, and indeed probably helped to popularise, that there isn’t much else left to say about it.

Send In The Clowns is possibly one of Sondheim’s most often recorded songs. It is one of those numbers, like Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Memory, that everybody seems to do. However, it is seldom done really well, with understanding. No such problems tonight. Dame Judi Dench’s performance it one of the very best I have ever witnessed (the only version which I think can possibly compare to this was the quite moving one in the 1999 Chelmsford revival of Side By Side By Sondheim). This number either needs to be sung by a woman who is a good enough actress to act the kind of situation the character singing the song is on, or someone who can actually draw on her own experience to perform this number as though she means it. (I cannot think of very many actresses who could do this number on pure acting ability except perhaps Anna Francolini or Louise Plowright. But these days there are quite a few singer-actresses, with known reputations for singing Sondheim who could probably do this number well through drawing on experience, for example ladies such as: Janie Dee, Maria Friedman, Louise Gold, and, Jessica Martin). Tonight the number works perfectly, for three reasons: Firstly Dame Judi Dench knows exactly what the song is about because she played Desiree in a production of A Little Night Music, secondly Dame Judi Dench is a great actress, and thirdly she can draw on her own experience – she knows what it is like to be a working mother. And really that’s what this number is about (the character has reached a cross-roads in her life and has to decided should she stay at home with her child, or should she carry on trying to have it all?). Well Dame Judi Dench certainly gave the number its just deserts.

Send In The Clowns was yet another hard act to follow. What did follow it was a somewhat experimental version of We’re Gonna Be Alright, sung as a quartet by Liz Robertson, Steven Pacey, Julia Sutton, and, Simon Green. They seem to be attempting to combine the spirit with which the song was originally done in Do I Hear A Waltz, with the way it is usually done in Side By Side By Sondheim. Good though Simon Green and Steven Pacey are, with the exception of the excellent Liz Robertson, I felt that none of them quite succeeded in making it their own. Doing it in a different way may have helped them a bit, but ultimately I for one could not quite forget the memory of Mr Kernan & Ms Martin on the original record, not to mention Robert Meadmore & Louise Gold five years ago in Side By Side By Sondheim 25th Anniversary particularly Louise’s funny little “explosion” in the latter. However tonight’s performance is very interesting, and Liz Robertson at least did her best to do it justice.

A funny narration from Maureen Lipman, has some good jokes, but went on a little too long, or rather I’m not quite sure about repeating the same joke three times, twice maybe...

A Boy Like That is a great a powerful duet, so you need two ladies who will do it justice. Tonight we have Louise Gold (as Anita) and Rebecca Lock (as Maria). Louise is in the same outfit as her last two appearances. In complete contrast to her lively comical performances of the first act Louise Gold gets an opportunity to demonstrate her serious side. Louise may be one of the maddest muppets ever the grace the West End stage, or for that matter a Sondheim gala, but she is also a sensible intelligent actress who knows when to play it straight with no shtiklech. Both ladies sing and act the number well, and really make you believe in the characters. In West Side Story the two women are friends, close in age, but here the number is presented, as it often is in Side By Side By Sondheim with an age difference. Anita coming across as an older, more matronly woman; perhaps an elder sister, a mother, an aunt, a guardian, who knows? I always think this works rather well. It has the added advantage when done in a gala, of giving an older (and in Louise Gold’s case taller) woman a welcome opportunity. As Rebecca Lock, centre stage right, comes towards the end of her heartfelt I Have A love, Louise Gold stands poised centre stage left, obviously about to do something, then when they come to the last verse as if on cue, Louise walks over and wraps her big strong arms round the girl. Rebecca ends the song by burying her head in Louise’s chest, it is really a very moving piece of acting, from both ladies, and I almost wanted to cry.

Once again a hard act to follow. This time we actually have someone who really can follow it. Ms Millicent Martin doing her Essex Girl act, The Boy From. (Well sung in an Essex accent – nice that she can go back to her roots like that). It is as brilliant as ever. The only possibly flaw is that some of the audience tried to applaud a tad too soon, it is so jolly good.

Ms Julia McKenzie takes her place as narrator, in the programme it said that Ms Martin and Ms McKenzie would do it together, but in the event Ms McKenzie did it alone. She explained that she and Ms Martin had particularly wanted to introduce the next bit, because when they appeared together in Follies as Phyllis and Sally, their ghosts were played by two young actresses whom they felt would be going somewhere. Young Sally had been played by Jenna Russell, now about to open in Sunday In The Park With George, and, Young Phyllis by Sally Ann Triplett.

Unfortunately, despite Ms Mckenzie’s glowing introduction I was not all that taken with Ms Sally Ann Triplett’s performance of There Won’t Be Trumpets. Perhaps it was something to do with being too high up in the gallery to really connect with the number. Ms Sally Ann Triplett is a fine musical theatre actress, when I’ve seen her in actual musicals I’ve enjoyed her performances. She did a good little job in The Villains Opera, and was brilliant in one of the most difficult parts in Acorn Antiques. Yet somehow in galas’, to me, she never quite seems to come across. Is it choice of material, I wonder? Tonight I found myself thinking about perfectly this number suits Janie Dee (who did after all actually do it in the London premier of Anyone Can Whistle). Still, maybe it worked better for people sitting closer (such as in the stalls).

Pretty Lady is well sung by Daniel Evans, Edward Baker-Duly, and, Simon Green, all looking straight ahead of them to the back wall, it is a good performance, and worked well in the gala setting with three men.

Mr Ned Sherrin’s narration immediately following that number explains it and goes into the famous W. S. Gilbert spoof excerpt from Pacific Overtures.

Back to the ‘old stagers’, here introduced as such, for You Gotta Have A Gimmick. I always thought this number was called You Gotta Get A Gimmick. Well the old stagers certainly pulled all the stops out to give of their best, and given their ages, this best was exceedingly good, better I felt than five years ago (although, for me, that may be partly due to the almost indelible memory of this number in the 1999 Chelmsford revival having dimmed a little). Ms Julia McKenzie makes a particularly good effort with both her singing and her trumpet (although whenever I hear anyone do Mazzepa, I find myself thinking of Louise Gold’s brassy Mermaneque pipes in that Chelmsford revival). Ms Millicent Martin acts well. I thought her singing not quite perfect, but it is ok. At least this time (judging by the programme credits, she didn’t have to spend an afternoon sewing her costume). Mr David Kernan really is good, gosh can he act! – splendid cockney accent; and as for his dancing, wow! He can still do a refined pelvic thrust! He also makes a little reference to the “deaf drummer”, Namely Mr Ned Sherrin. I wonder if this was scripted? (given that I recall Louise barking “work on that” to Mr Kernan when he was the drummer in the Chelmsford revival) All in all what a spectacular effort from the old stagers!

Mr Ned Sherrin continues to occupy his narrator’s role, to introduce the finale three numbers, and says that he is sure Dame Cleo Laine won’t mangle the lyrics to I’m Still Here, like Ms Eartha Kitt did at Drury Lane. I thought that a bit hard on Ms Eartha Kitt; and besides mangling them is one thing, there have also been some notable, and some not so notable instances of actresses forgetting them. Yvonne De Carlo in the original production of Follies, and more recently, in a revival both Diane Langton and her understudy Myra Sands on successive nights.

The first of these songs is Could I Leave You, sung tonight by Liz Robertson. Although she has in all probability certainly sung it before on stage (she was the original Side By Side By Sondheim understudy), I had never before seen her do so. She is an excellent singer-actress, who knows what to do with a classic like this. Unfortunately there have been good renditions of it, performances by the likes of: Mr David Kernan, Lorna Dallas, and, Louise Gold, not to mention Alexis Smith’s recording, and they are all such hard acts to follow. I think Ms Robertson has sung other Sondheim numbers a bit more convincingly. However, she is certainly not bad, it’s just a hard number to make her own, she’s perfectly satisfactory (perhaps I just need to get used to her interpretation). She took the “ten elderly men from the UN” line in the often used flowing style, with just a hint of emphasis, very much like on the Alexis Smith recording.

Loosing My Mind is an impressive performance from Ms Julia McKenzie, with excellent support from Mr Gareth Owen’s sound design. Stylistically Ms McKenzie sings it very much as Sally from Follies, and although this song can be given other slants, this is probably the most suitable one for her to perform it in.

I’m Still Here is performed very much as it was at the twenty-fifth Anniversary, sung by Dame Cleo Laine, accompanied by Mr John Dankworth on his lyrical saxophone. Although I would’ve really liked to see Ms Millicent Martin perform this number, partly because Ms Martin was one of the real stars of tonight’s show, and partly just because I’d really love to see her perform this song (which she put into Side By Side By Sondheim in the first place simply because she happened to already know it); Dame Cleo Laine sings  well, though her  style is not necessarily to my taste; at any rate she sings it a lot better than the performance I saw of it in Follies a few years ago. I actually found myself wondering “How many former guest stars from The Muppet Show are still here, and how many of those would find themselves appearing on stage in a charity gala that one of the puppeteers from that programme also happened to be appearing in?”

Normally at this point in Side By Side By Sondheim one would go straight into the finale, but not tonight, there’s just one more bit of narration, from Cameron Mackintosh. He says “Well now you know the secret of being a successful producer, don’t go to see the show beforehand.” It is nice to have him up there on the stage too, and joking about that time he famously got lost when he was supposed to be going to see that show. But following on from Dame Cleo Laine’s performance, Mr Mackintosh is also in a reflective mood, mentioning that it made him think of the people involved in the show who are no longer here, such as Helen Montague, and also Sondehim’s late agent, which is quite poignant.

Into the finale. The old stagers return to the stage, along with Mr Ned Sherrin, and joined by tonight’s pianists sing Side By Side, just like they do on the cast album, except at the very end there is surprise, when Mr Kernan sings the line “By Sondheim”, who should step out from the wings, by Mr Stephen Sondheim himself! The trio launch into What Would We Do Without You, clearly sung to Mr Sondheim, who joins in by singing the finale line to them “Just what you usually do.” and exits Wow! what a way to end a show!

But of course it’s not quite over yet. There’s still the curtain calls. The pianists continue to play Comedy Tonight, as all the performers come on stage, for the grand finale Side By Side, which mostly all of them dance as well as sing. The choreography also involves the performers, with their arms by their sides shaking their hands about (I may be “reading too much into it” but I couldn’t help noticing Louise Gold’s clever hands clearing picking that piece of choreography up rather expertly). The trio are of course in the front; with at the appropriate points in the music first Ms McKenzie and secondly Ms Martin get a quick little tap solo. As with the twenty-fifth Gala five years ago, Ms KcKenzie isn’t too good, but Ms Martin is still on good form. Maybe that’s her Italia Conti training rubbing off. It seems to be noticeable on the stage, especially once performers get older, that those who were well trained dancers from a young age tend to retain some of that ability for a long long time. To quote a line from Follies “muscle memory”.  And on the subject of good stage school trained dancers, I noticed that the Arts Educational half dozen, who are all obviously capable dancers, were at this point positioned in a bunch behind Louise Gold, who is also dancing rather well, as if to show them a thing or two, and making it a kind of Arts Ed Seven all together. After all, over thirty years ago, she herself attended the same school as the sextet. Yes Louise’s performance is great, costume wise she is dressed as she had been for all but her first number, I kind of wished she’d changed back to the white jacket, if only because I think that actually suits her slender beauty better, but she’s the sort of person who looks good in almost anything, so really it doesn’t matter too much what costume she chooses.

After this everyone moved around, to take their bows, finally ending up lined up on the stage, with tonight’s true stars in front, and the rest behind them mostly in height order, for example tall Louise Gold up there at the back. Trevor Macdonald came on to announce the prize winners. A £10. note prize draw was actually one by an audience member in the gallery, so of course the rest of us in the gallery all turned to applaud her, and probably felt a certain sense of satisfaction it was one of our fellow audience members. The silent auction was won by one Michael Rose, probably down in the stalls (as one would expect). And with that the pianists played out as all the performer left the stage.


A splendid tribute to the work of the Sondheim pioneers Ms Millicent Martin, Mr David Kernan, and, Ms Julia McKenzie. Although the cast included: a famous jazz saxophonist, a recently retired legendary newsreader, and notable TV puppeteer, not to mention: Two dames, Three honorary citizens of Memphis Tennessee, and at least seven people who are currently starring in West End shows (well there’s three from Mary Poppins, and four about to open in Sunday In The Park With George for a start); It was very much the three old stagers night. And they responded in the best possible way, by pulling out all the stops with some memorable performances given to the very best of their abilities. Ms Julia McKenzie sang her best, a word of praise for Mr Gareth Owen for giving her just the kind of sound design to best suit her talents. Mr David Kernan proved he can still act with the best of them. While Ms Millicent Martin was magnificent as ever, with graceful style and polished singing. And then there were all the guest performers. None were actually terrible, though some were less good than others, or perhaps just appealed to different tastes. Actually with such a marvellous range of wonderful performers it was like a very rich layer cake, full of all sorts of lovely bits and pieces. If it was a cake, and a jolly good one too, then to my mind the icing on it was Louise Gold livening things up. A big glitzy gala could get just a bit too serious and proper. It could do with someone to liven it up a bit, though not too much. Louise Gold is perfect for the job. She’s great at subtly (so much so that sometimes unless you know her performances well, you might not always realise what she’s doing), for example in The Little Things You Do Together, but she can also be quite outrageous in her upstaging, and yet she’s actually very intelligent and sensible. She knows just how far it is acceptable to go, before descending into totally inappropriate silliness. So that while she may go almost right up to the line, as with Beautiful Girls, you can trust her never to cross it. But she isn’t just a madcap muppet, she can be totally serious if that is what the song she is singing demands, as she demonstrated tonight with the powerfully heartfelt A Boy Like That. Really she’s just a true professional trouper, what more do we need?

I found watching this gala from the gallery an interesting experience. Actually it was nice to be able to see the whole stage. I particularly noticed that while most of the singers did, what musical theatre performers are supposed to do, and sang looking straight ahead of them (towards the back wall), there were a minority who broke the rules. I noticed at least one performer playing to the stalls; Which for all I know may be a code of behaviour for big glitzy galas. This was in complete contrast to Louise Gold who was looking all over the place, up down, sideways. Louise sings out to the whole house. No matter where you were sitting in the auditorium you got a fair slice of her performance, she’s delightfully inclusive.

Louise Gold was not the only surprising element. What with Ms Millicent Martin and Ms Julia McKenzie doing If Mama Were Married, several other people singing numbers other than the ones I was expecting them to sing. And above all an appearance from Mr Stephen Sondheim himself to end the show; well what a night! A gala? No it was a ball, a party. Really the whole evening is just such a simcha. And I for one am very glad to have witnessed it.



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