Side By Side By Sondheim
Matinee performance At Chelsmford Civic Theatre on Saturday 23rd October 1999
Reviewed by Emma Shane © October 1999
Judy Garland in Till The Clouds Roll By did it. various Star Trek actors (Gates McFadden in ST TNG, Nana Visitor in DS9 and most recently Roxanne Dawson in VGR) did it, Ethel Merman performing for the WWII soldiers most certainly did it. More significantly Gertrude Lawrnce in the Charlot Revue, Tabs in 1918 did it, and last year Jessica Martin in On A Clear Day You Can See Forever did it. Now it is Louise Gold's turn, as she stars side by side with David Kernan, Robert Meadmore, and Liz Robertson in Side By Side By Sondheim at the Civic Theatre in Chelsmford. Louise Gold has always been an agile performer, and now her agility stood her in good stead.
††††††††††††††† The show opens with the main trio: Robert Medmore as "David", Louise Gold as "Millie" (only in this production they called her "Lulu") and Liz Robertson as "Julia" (in this production known as "Lizzie") singing the opening rouser Comedy Tonight. This is a funny song, well suited to the wonderfully comic talent of our performers. The show is narrated by David Kernan as "Ned", who sat at the side of the stage in front of a screen upon which posters from various Sondheim shows, courtesy of Rexton S Bunnet were projected. Naturally David and Robert were wearing grey suits. Liz was also clad in a smart light brown trouser suit, while Louise was wearing a skirt with a loose top affair, both in burgundy colours. Her skirt had two side slits to the thigh in it, permitting her to show off those lovely legs of hers.
Then the show's author David Kernan, playing the role of "Ned" (originally Ned Sherrin's role) as the narrator introduced "Little" Liz Robertson and "Baby" Louise Gold singing If Momma Were Married from Gypsy. Needless to say (with her name being "Louise") Ms Gold sang Gypsy's character while Ms Robertson sang the Miss Havoc character. This gave the company the perfect opportunity to slip in a cry of that Sondheim opening line from Gypsy, "Sing out Louise!" not that the leather lunged Ms Gold ever needs anyone to tell her to do that! At the number's conclusion Liz took her seat at the side of the stage, by the piano. While the statuesque Louise draped herself on a bench at the back of the stage, exposing her wonderful legs. Robert Meadmore strode over and the pair began to duet You Must Meet My Wife. A song sung by a man who has recently married a girl who is a virgin (and determined to stay that way) to an old flame, who (in this production at any rate) is clearly far from being a virgin. During the course of the number Louise got to her feet and fooled around him, a little, making good use of her characterful hands and face to express her emotions.
††††††††††††††† After this number Louise departed the stage, leaving Robert and Liz to duet another marriage song The Little Things You Do Together. It is a charming song, and it was well sung. They followed this up with a fourth marriage song Getting Married Today. That enthusiastic dancer Liz Robertson, who had added a hat to her outfit began it, swiftly followed by Robert Meadmore. After the first verse Louise Gold returned to the stage, with a veil, as the beautiful, and blooming (as if she was at a shot-gun wedding) bride proclaiming "I'm not getting married today". I have to say that it is one of the best renditions I have ever heard of that song. Better even than Kim Criswell's supersonic rendition in a West End Showcase a few years ago. Part of the reason it was so good was that it used a nice orchestration. The other reason was Louise Gold's singing. The lyrics came out unusually clearly, and with little of the hysteria that usually accompanies this song. Our blooming bride rendered this song far more as a strong-minded woman who knows what she wants, rather than a jittery young thing. It was if the bride did not want to marry, but society demands she must, to save her reputation. After the number David Kernan remarked that it was "An incredible perception of marriage from someone who never was", a line which is meant to refer to the lyricist.
††††††††††††††† After some well-known songs it was now time for two lesser known numbers. First Robert Meadmore sang I Remember. This fellow is a good singer and he sang well. Unfortunately for him, trying to follow a showstopper is a difficult thing to do, so that while he was by no means bad the song did not make much of an impact. I am sure that this was due wholly to the songs positioning in the script as opposed to anything else. The second little known number Can The Boy Fox-Trot came across more noticeably, sung by Liz Robertson and Louise Gold, both sporting feather Boa's. I think Liz had the orange and white one, while Louise had the pink and white one. They flicked and tossed their boa's a round. It was nice to see Louise having something to toss about (how many times has one seen her toss those chestnut tresses she used to have about?). Both ladies sang very well. I have to add that the number was quite a testimony to Louise Gold's acting abilities. She is quite good at acting so that the audience concentrates on the plot rather than what the actress actually looks like (she is using similar skills to those she used in Lady Into Fox, to play a Fox despite her height). This number is also typical of Liz Robertson's performance throughout the entire show. She is very good, she makes an excellent member of the team, and yet she gets overshadowed. She is very much a contributor to the show as a whole rather than as an individual, though her numbers are always done really very well.
††††††††††††††† The company followed this with a medley from Company, beginning with them all doing the introductory song, very well. This was followed by Liz Robertson singing Another Hundred People - she sang it well, but, unfortunately I cannot get the version from a Sondheim Concert on the radio a few years ago (involving Louise Gold) out of my head. Rather better was Liz and Robert dueting Barcelona. This was a number which showed them off very well. David Kernan's introduction set the song in context, that of a man who has had a one night stand with an air hostess. That introduction definitely added something to the song. The Company medley was concluded with Robert Meadmore's dramatic rendition of Being Alive. It was the first time in the evening that he really made an impact. Up until then he had been a very good supporting player, but he had not really shone in his own light. Now he started to shine by himself.
††††††††††††††† It was nice to find one starring turn followed by another that was even more spectacular. This time it was versatile Louise Gold's turn to get her first solo of the evening as the versatile Madam of a French Brothel singing I Never Do Anything Twice. This versatile lady, who never sings a song the same way twice, is certainly full of surprises, and this number was absolutely no exception. The first surprise was that on entering the stage, wearing both the feather boas, she attempted to climb a piano! True Millicent Martin did that in the original production of Side Bye Side, but all the same, should this actress be climbing a piano in her condition! It was only thanks to her: height, agility and strong arms that she succeeded in heaving herself, on her back, up onto the back of the grand piano. Half-way through the number, with the assistance of pianist Nathan Martin (who had been playing it), she jumps down off the piano, to continue the number standing on the stage. The number was well worth the physical effort. She sang it with a delightful French accent, which was a wonderful a parody of Millicent Martin doing a French accent. It has been claimed, by various Sondheim groupies, that she missed several of the double entendres, although I think that in actual fact the problem was that she did some of the double entendres perhaps a bit too subtly. However she still did the number very impressively nonetheless. She is a brilliantly versatile comedienne, who even got a laugh for sticking her tongue out, at the end of a line. Up until this point in the evening she had seemed a little restrained, at last her unrestrained flair for comedy really began to show itself.
††††††††††††††† It really would have been unwise to follow that super solo with another solo. Wisely it was followed with the best thing possible, an ensemble piece. True Robert Meadmore sang Beautiful Girls as a solo, but with the dancing assistance of Liz Robertson followed by Louise Gold coming on at various points holding fans - al la the follies. Robert was assisted by David Kernan, who midway through the number came and joined him on stage. That number had a comic ending. Twice the charming Liz, who did manage to look rather like a 'Follies Girl" entered with different fans, soon followed by Louise, who, not surprisingly, never quite succeeded in looking like a 'Follies Girl'. On the third occasion, however, Liz entered, and Louise did not, well not until David called her on, that is. This number was swiftly followed by Robert and David dueting Buddy's Blues, with assistance from the girls. First Robert sang it, with backup from his girl "Lizzie", then it was David's turn, with some rather sulky sounding back up from,Ö was it from "Lizzie"? no it's "Lulu". Having, earlier, had Nathan Martin assist a pregnant woman off a piano, this number found Robert Meadmore taking his turn in the cast-shifting activities, by helping an ageing gentleman to kneel down on the stage.
††††††††††††††† This was followed by another solo, namely Liz Robertson singing Broadway Baby. It is very difficult after that number has been sung by such impressive singers as Julia McKenzie and Kim Criswell, for anyone else to make it their own. That is not to say that Ms Robertson did not do it well, for she is an excellent singer. The first act concluded with the crazy mixed up bunch of thespians sings an enthusiastic You Could Drive A Person Crazy. This number was done as a parody of The Andrews Sisters. David Kernan introduced them by saying: "Please welcome: 'Maxine' Gold, 'Patty' Robertson and 'Laverne' Meadmore' with 'You Can Drive A Person Crazy'".
The first act was good, but the second act was better. It opened with the company showing off their vocal talents singing Everybody Says Don't from Anyone Can Whistle. Robert was dressed in a black evening suit, while David was wearing black trousers and a white dinner jacket. Liz was wearing a smart black close-fitting evening-dress. Louise was also clad in a looser black evening dress with the added addition of a very loose semi-trasparent black top over it. This was followed by David Kernan (not Robert Meadmore as it said in the programme) singing a pleasant rendition of the title song from that same show.
††††††††††††††† Next on the bill was a song which I am not usually all that keen on, perhaps because I do not fully understand its context, Send In The Clowns, sung by Louise Gold. Over the years this song has been sung by artistes ranging from Howard Keel to Judy Collins. I have to say that Louise Gold's rendition of it was one of the sweetest beautifulist renditions I have heard. She sang it very nicely, and I appreciated her rendition, no matter what I think of the song.
††††††††††††††† This was followed by the ever versatile Louise Gold sitting on a chair, and with Robert Meadmore dueting a delightful song, called We're Gonna Be Alright. It is a song about married couples. The song has a wonderful jolly melody by Richard Rogers, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim , which sound as if he had been taking writing lessons from Rogers's daughter, Mary. I can't think why this lovely song isn't better known. Here it had the advantage of being very well sung by both Louise Gold and Robert Meadmore, even if the latter did get a bit overshadowed by the former, which is pretty typical of Louise Gold doing a duet with anyone.
††††††††††††††† Next up was another duet, again with music by someone else, namely A Boy Like That and I Have A Love, from West Side Story, brilliantly dueted by Liz Robertson as Maria and Louise Gold as Anita. Although Ms Robertson is probably actually a couple of years older than Ms Gold, they're acting very convincingly managed to portray Ms Gold as the more worldy wise. Possibly the fact that Ms Gold is taller, &c, helped. This number found Liz Robertson making an excellent attempt to hold her own, though Louise Gold has always been a somewhat Louder singer.
††††††††††††††† The indefatigable Louise Gold sang the next number too, another solo, namely The Boy From. It was one of the most interesting and unique versions of that song that I have ever heard. Made all the more so by the fact that she did it in a brilliant Brummie accent - I did not even know she could do Brummie! - although that is not greatly surprising, after all Louise Gold is a real whizz with accents.
††††††††††††††† This was followed by Louise Gold, Liz Robertson and Robert Meadmore as "three sailors from: Gidea Park, Ilford and East Ham,- singing, in a cockney accent under protest" - according to David Kernan, Pretty Lady, a song which three British sailors sing to a Japanese girl in a garden whom they have mistaken for a Geisha. The number was meant to be a pastiche on Gilbert and Sullivan - something which Robert Meadmore and Louise Gold, at least, are pretty familiar with. For this number Louise was sitting on the bench at the back of the stage, with Robert on the steps to her right and Liz on the steps to her left. It was introducing this number that David Kernan's microphone failed. The audience realised this long before he did. In fact he only realised at the end of the following number, when Liz Robertson walked up and handed him another microphone.
††††††††††††††† Then Robert Meadmore did a truly brilliant showstopping solo, Multitude of Amy's. He put so much passion and energy into it that it could not help but come across brilliantly; what could possibly follow that?
††††††††††††††† What actually followed it was You Gotta Get A Gimmick. According to David Kernan's narration this number was originally supposed to be sung in Gypsy by Ethel Merman as Mama Rose. However it was inserted into that show late in production and she refused to do a new song that late in rehearsal, therefore it was given to the strippers to do. Since it was written for Merman, what better way to present it in a revue then as a tribute to Merman herself. In the original production of Side By Side this number was led by "Julia", but for this production "Millie" (or rather "Lulu"), our very own answer to Ethel Merman, just had to take the lead. Only, unlike Merman (entertaining the troops during WWII), the lighting technicians did not try to hide her bump. The number started with a laugh, for Louise Gold's appearance as she strode onto the stage was to say the least highly comical. In order that one might see the bows on her dress when her breasts are, she had shed the loose top, which had previously covered her bump, and it was made rather more noticeable by a G-String tied round her waist at the back, and just below her bump at the front. Comical she might look, but there is no denying her talent, especially not her talent for singing a la Merman. It has been said that Ethel Merman is impossible to imitate, yet Louise Gold once again disproved that theory, and we enjoyed the incredible treat of hearing Louise Gold singing the way we know and love her best: Loud, brassy, comical and sincere all at once. There are insufficient words to describe this magnificent lady's interpretation of Ethel Merman! Just when we thought the treat was over, Miz Gold strode to the front of the stage, to where David Kernan was sitting, beating a drum - "Work on that" rasps Gold - as Kernan handed her a bugle. Upon which she promptly essayed a few notes - which may have been why she had "Julia's" part in this number - one could not imagine the others attempting to "Bump it with a trumpet". Armed with her bugle, we then saw this rather large actress at her most comical, "Wait" she barks. With her back to the audience she hikes up part of the skirt of her dress (it really was a little too tight for a woman in her condition), revealing those wonderful calves of hers, and then,- how on earth she managed this goodness only knows - , contrived to bend over and blow her bugle through her legs!
††††††††††††††† One might have supposed the number to end there. But after a round of applause for Louise, who thoroughly deserved it - what an amazing performer she is! - Robert Meadmore entered, also sporting a G-string, over his suit, on which was arrayed some lights -his gimmick being their switch. Once he had sung his verse, and got a lot of laughs for his lights, Liz Robertson entered. Over her evening dress she was wearing a dainty G-Strong and dainty bows where her breasts are. She sang her verse daintily. It was the most amazing number in the entire show, and certainly the most memorable number in this production. Finally the trio sang another verse of the song together, ending with Louise who "has very big lungs" blowing loudly on her bugle.
††††††††††††††† You Gotta Get A Gimmick really could not be followed. It was unfair on Liz Robertson, wearing a stylish blue evening dress, that she had to sing her Losing My Mind Solo immediately afterwards. In fact, in this show, Liz Robertson's performance suffered from having to sing solos at the wrong moments. She is an excellent performer, but she kept being required to follow acts which are almost impossible to follow!
††††††††††††††† Rather better positioned was Robert Meadmore, who then had to sing Could I Leave You, which he sang really well. Again I cannot imagine why this song isnít used more. It might be great for some easy listening singers. He did it justice.
††††††††††††††† The final solo of the evening was one of its greatest. I'm Still Here was originally sung, in this country, by Dolores Gray in Follies. Now it is sung by an actress with just as great a sense of fun and comedy, and an even more †powerful singing voice. Wearing a loose blue velvety skirt and top, with a glittering blue coat, at last she had a comic number with which to do the other thing she is really known for (besides Ethel Merman impressions that is). That is to perform a song which is crying out for a singer who can switch into a multitude of styles and accents very very quickly. I have heard a recording of Dolores Gray's version, and compared to any other versions I have heard recordings of, thought it difficult to beat. However, Louise Gold truly made it her very own; and it is the first time her singing has ever moved me to tears. The song suits her very well, for she is a versatile performer who has done a lot in her extraordinary career, such as: cracked whips, turned into a fox and a radio, blown a trumpet, climbed pianos, performed puppets, and many many other things besides. Some lines did jar everso slightly: One such is: "I should have gone to an acting school", since, as a schoolgirl, Gold actually did attend the Arts Educational School. However that is to dissect the lyrics. The theme of the song fits her extremely well, making it a super solo to end on. It could be a great swan song for Louise Gold - Although I do hope it isn't.
††††††††††††††† The finale found all four members of the company performing Conversation Piece, a mixed up medley of Sondheim songs, some of which had been heard earlier in the show, and many of which had not. The funniest moment of this was when both men were chasing Liz with a song, and Louise kept chipping in, growling the words "I'm still here". Finally the company gave the two encores of their theme song Side Bye Side, and took their bows. It was a fine ending to a fun show. All of the cast were truly brilliant. However a special mention must be made of Louise Gold, who is expecting her first baby in January. I am sure everyone who knows and loves her performances would wish her and her partner all the very best for the future. However, since Roxanne Dawson has vowed to put the fiery Klingon temper back into Voyager, and with Jessica Martin back on the British stage with a vengeance, one can hope that before too long a time has passed, the versatile and talented Louise Gold may once again sing out that she's still here.