Updated: Sunday 1 August 2010
This was an incredibly special evening. Both me and my Significant Other knew it would be so the moment we knew we’d secured tickets to the night.
But it wasn’t until Simon explained to me prior to the concert what he was looking forward to, I was reminded about one crucial thing.
Sunday In The Park With George was the show he and I (with a handful of a close friends) went to go and see hours after we’d signed our names on our civil partnership in 2006. I was suffering from indigestion for the first half. I’d devoured an entire cheese course. I couldn’t help myself.
But it was Jenna Russell’s performance in the Menier Chocolate Factory’s production at the Wyndham Theatre that day which made the day. We were in the second row. Her performance was stunning. We cried. She cried. Everyone cried.
No surprises then that come the reprise of the numbers from Sunday in the Park with George – especially Jenna Russell’s performance – that things got a little bit emotional in the loggia box where we were sat. A reprised performance conjured up romantic memories of what had been a deliberately low-key day for us in the company of closest friends. I’d been introduced to Sondheim’s music by Simon shortly after we met. Seeing a Sondheim show to mark our civil partnership was both lucky (the production was quickly sold out in 2006) and seemingly ‘right’. To then be reminded of that day at the Prom made the whole concert seem like Christmas Day.
Sondheim’s score for Sunday in the Park is his most mature writing. It sounds it. His lyrics too have a dryer perhaps even more satisfying humour than the pantomime Into the Woods or Forum, making the entire thing seem like a Phd in comparison to the degree level Sweeney. There was even beauty in coincidence too. When Russell sang about it being ‘hot up here’ and a bead of sweat sliding down her neck, wilting audience members nodded in agreement.
I’m a Sondheim fan – though not an expert – so what with that and the personal ties with the past, I found it difficult resisting the temptation to record a cheeky snippet from Sunday. For God’s sake, don’t tell Roger Wright I captured this.
If Russell eclipsed the top-billing of Dame Judi Dench singing Send in the Clowns (it was a brilliant tear-jerker, although we knew it would be anyway), then tenor Julian Ovendon singing Being Alive did the same over Bryn Terfel. The latter’s operatic style seemed a little too big on stage in comparison to the more modest but plausible musical theatre performances provided by other members of the company. Over-acting is easy just as it is easy to spot too. Maria Freedman playing Mrs Lovett was the perfect foil to this in the Sweeney duet showing all the black humour the role demands.
Having said this, nothing really detracted from what was in Proms terms was an incredibly special night. It was lovely to be in a space with so many others who shared enthusiasm for Sondheim’s work. The performance on stage was polished and executed by people who clearly demonstrated their love for the composer not only in their performance but also in the welcome they had for him when he stepped onto stage at the end of the concert.
And that welcome was magnified during the standing ovation he received from the audience too, something I’ve never seen at the Albert Hall.
:: Watch members of the BBC Concert Orchestra perform Stephen Sondheim’s Take me to the World.