Review by Paul Nelson
MY admiration for Stephen Sondheim is under control. I acknowledge
that he is a composer recognised as par excellence these days
and the best currently in the market, but the shortcomings and
indulgences do not make for a Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Frank
Loesser or any other solo composer/lyricist.
Currently we hardly dare mention the names of his predecessors,
the Sondheim movement being so militant.
I suppose if you had been brought up in the US with a domineering
mother (maybe he wasn't, who knows? who Cares?) and with a horizon
of hot dogs, burgers and Coca-Cola, one surely would dream about
pageants, knights in armour, princesses imprisoned in towers,
evil and good spirits and so forth. Quite rightly, when these
turn up as musical numbers they are the first to face the knife.
All the denizens of Fairyland inhabit most of Sondheim's output
cunningly disguised as urban intelligentsia or argument. Ultimately,
the banks burst with Into the Woods, a (to my mind) boring
musical in which we all, through various variations of characters,
face our fairy-tale demons.
I never had a fairy-tale demon. I approached puberty and adulthood
with most of the decisions and problems having been previously
I had to serve in the armed forces, I not unwillingly was dragged
from the bosom of my family and I had to slog away to get not
only my matriculation at grammar school, but also my degree at
college. Not for me the smoothing of the path, the lowering of
educational standards. If only
I must admit I was unwillingly dragged to see Marry Me A Little,
a musical show that audaciously expects its audience to accept
a series of songs that didn't make it. They were all cut by the
directors or producers and possibly truculent stars who refused
to sing them, from the finished shows.
Isn't that great? Top of the Flops.
This mishmash of dire numbers is expected to be given life by
the cast. A sacrificial male and female forced to prove that really
if we had seen the original show we would have appreciated how
magnificent the composer/lyricist really was.
In most cases, we would probably still be there in the theatre
on an interminable opening night.
The songs don't actually grab you, singly or collectively.
I have to admit there was one lyric, to what turned out eventually
to be the haunting tune of the ghostly showgirls in Follies,
which I thought was pretty, but the rest are almost to a bar pure
Sondheim's comedy numbers seem to have withstood the worst of
most of the drubbings his scores have been through. How about
the exotic 'Pour Le Sport'? or 'Can That Boy Foxtrot'?
Both numbers have a degree of sophistication that is not exactly
very high, but much higher than the pap offered in other contemporary
and even more modern musicals.
You will have gathered from this that my admiration for S.S.
is still under control in spite of the fact that a trio of performers,
obvious faithful followers, are giving their all at the Landor
For my money, they need not have bothered, though I grudgingly
accept that they managed almost effortlessly to ignite the audience.
There is a ticking time bomb of charm in the persona of Benjamin
Yates. If he is hoping this will be a showcase for him, he doesn't
have to worry. He is representing himself more than worthily.
Similarly, Bryony Growdon, a personable character who unfortunately
seems to have trouble getting both vowels and consonants past
her teeth. This was also always true of Millicent Martin, and
it didn't harm her.
However, the occasional sound of chalk on a blackboard does take
a little something from Miss Growdon's otherwise excellent performance
and I am sure this can be remedied.
If you wish to see what was cut from Sondheim musicals, and listen
again to some of the tunes you may recognise as being preserved
as background music within his various shows, then this is your
It is brief. 8pm to about 9.20pm, with no interval, and is staged
by the performers with a good degree of stagecraft and accompanied
by an excellent musical director.
As to whether it was worth it or not, I leave it to the audience
to judge. Their judgement was that the evening was a hit.
Marry Me A Little, Songs by Stephen Sondheim, Conceived and
developed by Craig Lucas and Norman Rene. Directed by Bryony Growdon,
Co-Director Benjamin Yates, Musical Director Matheson Bayley,
Choreographer Nicola Pearlstone, Costumes Benjamin Yates, Set
Bryony Growdon, Lighting Design Richard Lambert. WITH: Bryony
Growdon (Woman) and Benjamin Yates (Man). Presented by Gas Monkey
Theatre Company at the Landor Theatre, Landor Road, Clapham North,
London SW9. Tickets 020 7737 7276.