Last year, the world of musical theatre lost one of it’s most celebrated songwriters. With a career spanning almost 70 years, Stephen Sondheim, it is said, ‘reinvented the American Musical’.
After his passing, his friend, producer, Sir Cameron Mackintosh gathered together a plethora of West End and Broadway stars to perform a concert celebrating his works, it took place in May ’22 and was televised for broadcast last Christmas. The show was called ‘Old Friends’ after one of Sondheim’s songs from his show ‘Merrily We Roll Along’. But for the thousands of fans like me, who couldn’t get tickets, there is now an opportunity to see a commercially run version of the show where it runs at the Gielgud Theatre for the next 12 weeks. Returning to ‘Old Friends’ are many of the original cast and at its helm are Broadway legends Bernadette Peters making her West End debut, and Lea Salonga who started her musical theatre career in the West End at the age of 17 as the original Miss Saigon.
Old Friends is bursting with classics from scores from Sweeny Todd, Follies, Gypsy, West Side Story and more. The performing artists are of the highest calibre ensuring that there are far too many highlights to mention. As the opening number states, there is something familiar, something peculiar and something for absolutely everyone.
Old Friends encapsulates the best of Sondheim’s work, beautiful ballads, observational wittism and downright hilarious. The cream of Broadway and the West End give their all, it was plain to see by the way they performed, the respect that they show, and the messages they wrote in the programme that they each hold Sondheim in great regard. There is a subtle tribute at the end which brought tears to my eyes.
In short, I shall have many wonderful memories of this show for a long time to come.
This review does come with a proviso though, although his songs often grace my spotify playlists, Stephen Sondheim is quite niche and the guest who came with me (not as obsessed with Musical Theatre as I) only knew one song in the entire show. Nethertheless, she was enthralled by ‘Old Friends’ and was greatly impressed with the music. We parted company with me promising that the next time I see a production of Sondheim’s on, I shall take her (please let it be Sunday in the Park with George).
The world has lost the most marvellous composer and lyricist, and this is a fitting tribute…Rest in Peace
Reviewer: Sammi O’Neill
Photo: Danny Kaan
Bernadette Peters and Lea Salonga.
Christine Allado, Clare Burt, Janie Dee, Damian Humbley, Bradley Jaden, Bonnie Langford, Gavin Lee, Jason Pennycooke, Joanna Riding, Jeremy Secomb, Jac Yarrow, Marley Fenton and Beatrice Penny-Touré.