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
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
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.

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015