Bittersweet, hauntingly melodic, touching and witty, Maria Friedman’s finely judged production of Stephen Sondheim’s 1981 Broadway flop is unmissable for anyone who wants more from a musical than a cobbled together selection extracted from a band’s back catalogue.
Perfectly cast, gorgeously sung and deftly constructed, this welcome transfer from the Menier Chocolate Factory is a joy from beginning to end – or perhaps that should be “ending to beginning” as its downward spiral of a 19 year friendship is told backwards, starting in1976 at a glam LA party hosted by producer of the moment Franklin Shepard and travelling back through the years to his first meeting on a New York rooftop with collaborator Charley Kringos and new neighbour Mary Flynn.
Along their journey there’s acrimonious divorce, selling out of youthful ideals in pursuit of material wealth, a happy marriage and, unforgettably, a clutch of glorious songs which belie Sondheim’s reputation for tuneless melodies.
The plangent opening chords of Not a Day Goes By never fail to send a shiver down my spine and I’m still humming Old Friends and the title number several days later.
Friedman (herself an experienced interpreter of Sondheim’s work) ensures her entire spot-on cast hardly puts a foot wrong – and there’s particularly impressive work from the core trio – Mark Umbers’ good-looking composer Franklin seduced by Broadway diva Gussie and the lure of commercial success, Damian Humbley’s faithfully principled lyricist Charley, and Jenna Russell’s cynical critic Mary, in love with a man she’ll never have and seeking comfort at the bottom of the bottle.
Harold Pinter, Panton Street, SW1Y 4DN
Tube | Piccadilly Circus
Until July 27
Photo: Tristram Kenton