Moving On | The Bridewell, London

Audiences for musicals tend to want to be comforted rather than challenged. They like hearing what they've heard before which explains the endless diet of revivals and the applause for the shameless practice of needless reprises, the trick whereby a composer turns a tune into a hit. Repetition is the name of the game, but where does that leave Stephen Sondheim? He's a revolutionary working in a reactionary form, his shows low on repeats.

Audiences for musicals tend to want to be comforted rather than challenged. They like hearing what they've heard before which explains the endless diet of revivals and the applause for the shameless practice of needless reprises, the trick whereby a composer turns a tune into a hit. Repetition is the name of the game, but where does that leave Stephen Sondheim? He's a revolutionary working in a reactionary form, his shows low on repeats.

The obvious exception is Side By Side By Sondheim, the compilation dedicated to reprising highlights of his career up to 1976. Given its success, it's no surprise that people have tried to, yes, repeat the formula with his now vast back catalogue. Cameron Mackintosh spent years doing just that, endlessly reworking Putting It Together - a project that boasted divas as grand as Diana Rigg, through Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett - all to no avail.

The latest attempt comes with the bonus of being devised and directed by David Kernan, progenitor (and sole male performer) of Side By Side, but he has, as one Sondheim lyric puts it, "lots of hills to climb". Chief of these is how to contextualise all of, or moments from, 42 disparate songs. His smartest move was to hire Sondheim as narrator, who appears on tape and in photographs splashed across the back of the set. His commentary, droll (if rather coy) autobiography and thoughtful observations about theme and subject matter, is infinitely preferably to the cheesy showbiz insincerity which bedevils the cabaret scene.

Sadly, Kernan hasn't banished that mode from the performances. The point about Sondheim is that he's a musical dramatist. Untimely ripped, the songs pose problems which these five performers don't always know how to solve. Linzi Hateley, not always the subtlest of singers, fares best, but the others, no matter how strong their voices (and they run a dangerously wide gamut), have that look behind the eyes which suggests that they themselves are unconvinced. Too often they stand holding bright toothpaste grins as if they've run out of lines but the camera is still rolling, and their bodies rarely come into play except to underline lyrics in the most literal ways. You see it in the giveaway symmetry. If someone's left arm rises to make a gesture, so does the right. Why? Because the singers are only vocally connected to the material, that's why.

Warren Carlyle contributes some neat choreography - the re-thought "Ah, Paree" is sharp and funny - but the dancing slips between pleasurable and effortful. Despite fine moments, notably the ensemble work, there's too much determination to be winning. It's only when everyone relaxes in the charming duets "I Do Like You" and "A Moment With You" or Angela Richards's beautifully simple "In Buddy's Eyes", that genuine warmth fills the air.

The dovetailing of different songs is extremely adroit and the well-played arrangements for piano and bass with heartfelt cello lines are often powerfully evocative. However, the tempos are sometimes painfully slow - "Sunday" almost grinds to a halt - and the performers have a habit of over-savouring every note. You get the feeling that everyone involved loves the material just a little too much.

To 19 Aug, 020-7936 3456

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?