As a devoted fan of Steven Sondheim and musical theatre, I had the immense pleasure of witnessing the extraordinary production of Steven Sondheim's Old Friends at the Gielgud Theatre in London's West End. With a star-studded cast led by the incomparable Bernadette Peters and Lea Salonga. This show was an absolute triumph that left me in awe.
From the moment the curtains rose, you could hear a pin drop. We were transported into a world of nostalgia and heartfelt emotions. The staging was pure class, The tribute to Sondheim, expertly Directed and musically staged by the legend that is Matthew Bourne. The show revolved around songs to do with the complexities of friendship, love, and all that is in between from Sondheim’s wonderful masterpieces. ‘Sunday in the park with George’ being just one of many.
As Bernadette Peters, and Lea Salonga moved centre stage from the opening number, they introduced us to the evening. Both true legends of the stage. Individually and together, they delivered performances that were nothing short of breathtaking. Bernadette’s comedy timing was excellent and Lea Salonga as Mrs Lovett was a masterclass in how acting should be done. Is there nothing this fine actor cannot do. Perfect pitch, perfect stage presence and perfect looks. She has it all.
Bonnie Langford, together with Janie Dee and Joanna Riding brought the house down with ‘You Could Drive A Person Crazy’ their voices completed each other and their stage presence was more like true friends, singing a song for them and we were just lucky to be in the same room.
Bernadette Peters dressed as Little Red Riding hood singing ‘I Know Things Now’ with a ‘Hello Little Girl’ from a Bradley Jaden who played a well fit youthful Wolf made us laugh out loud, considering Bernadette is 75 (Young). But hey that’s show business, so funny. Their performance together was spot on.
Then we are transported back to Victorian London and Mrs. Lovett’s Pie shop, Wow Lea Salonga is unrecognisable in voice and in costume as Mrs. Lovett. Here Lea shows us why she is a world class act. Her singing and interaction between Jeremy Secomb, was like a show within a show. Yes please. More of this please! They also sang one of my favourite songs from Sweeney ‘A little bit of Priest’. Worth your ticket money alone. Lea Solonga could sing a food menu and make it sound like a classic Her rendition of ‘Loving You’ was a show stealer.
One of the funny lighter moments was ‘Getting Married’ performed by Joanna Riding, so funny and lyrically challenge. Not for Joanna. Very slick.
‘Everybody Ought To Have a Maid’. This was rib tickling funny performance, as Gavin Lee, Damian Humbley perform this song with a twist including funny interaction with dusters, while dressed in maid’s outfits.
Another stand out performance was Clare Burt singing ‘The Ladies who Lunch’. Just wonderful, considering that this was not to be her song, but Haydn Gwynne who sadly had to pull out of the show meant Clare stepped up. She made it her own.
The supporting cast was equally exceptional, with standout performances from Janie Dee, and Joanna Riding. Their chemistry with the leading ladies was palpable, creating a sense of authenticity that resonated throughout the entire production. Damian Humbley, Gavin Lee, and Jason Pennycooke added a delightful touch of humour and charm, providing moments of levity amidst the poignant storytelling.
The set design and costumes were a visual feast, transporting us seamlessly between different eras and song choices. The attention to detail was impeccable, capturing the essence of each song and enhancing the overall atmosphere of the show.
With a standing ovation at the end and justified to. What a great evening was had by all. I watched as row upon row were on the feet and near the end there was a lovely video tribute to the great man himself. There was not one week singer in the show, although I fear some had succumbed to a cold in places. ‘Old Friends’ is devised and produced by Cameron Mackintosh (Who I met after the show – A fellow Enfieldian). Directed by Matthew Bourne with Julia McKenzie (Who was charming to chat with). With choreography by Stephen Mear and conducted by Alfonso Casado Trigo.
If you want a night that will make you laugh, cry and experience what a genius we have lost in Steven Sondheim with his songs personally chosen by Cameron Mcintosh, then this is a show for you. Get in quick as it finishes in January 2024.
Old Friends is a testament to the enduring brilliance of Steven Sondheim's work. It is a celebration of friendship, love, and the power of music to touch our souls. This production, brought to life by an exceptional cast and creative team, is an absolute must-see for any lover of musical theatre. It will leave you with a renewed appreciation for the beauty and complexity of human connections, and a profound sense of gratitude for the old friends who have shaped your own journey.