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Sondheim. Luminaire Orchestra (Cadogan Hall)

(seen at the performance on 23rd July 2022).

Very different to the extravaganza in May, Alex Parker’s young Luminaire Orchestra choses the road Cameron Mackintosh didn’t take, mining Sondheim’s extensive back catalogue for slightly obscure gems to mix with a few better-known pieces and some amusing costuming too.

A 34 piece orchestra and 9 West End singers - Courtney Bowman, Lucca Chadwick-Patel, Rosalie Craig, Lorna Dallas, Janie Dee, Danielle de Niese, Jamie Parker, Jenna Russell and Danny Whitehead held a near sell-out audience spellbound for almost two and a half hours as the magic unfolded. The orchestra’s aim is to present musical theatre as originally scored, and you just don’t find pit orchestras this size any more.

The obvious “Overture from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To The Forum” (oddly, not as fun as the opening number itself) lead into Lucca Chadwich-Patel’s “Saturday Night” from the early Sondheim show of the same name.

Staying with the arcane, “There Won’t Be Trumpets” from “Anyone Can Whistle” moved on to the far better known but rarely heard in concert solo, “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” from “Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”. The considerably more performed “By the Sea” was given a fun duet, but splitting the pair was the fine choice of “If You Can Find Me I’m Here” from the TV half-hour “Evening Primrose”.

In turn, “Take Me To The World” from the same show was Lorna Dallas on fine form before a comedy highlight of a crazy Snow White accosting an unsuspecting audience member with “Sooner or Later” of Madonna’s “Dick Tracy” film fame.

Safer ground again with “Everybody Says Don’t” (“Anyone Can Whistle”) before “Happiness” from “Passion”. “The Miller’s Son” (“A Little Night Music”) would make someone even happier, and “You Must Meet My Wife” from the same show was an hilarious duet.

“Take The Moment” (“Do I Hear A Waltz”) is an odd choice, but young Courtney Bowman and Lucca Chadwick-Patel were acting even more oddly as their sinister love-letters were sung in “Unworthy Of Your Love” – a chilling selection from “Assassins.”

Far warmer, “Someone Is Waiting” from “Company” contrasted with “We Do Not Belong Together” from “Sunday In The Park With George” before Rosalie Craig re-lived her West End and Broadway success of “Being Alive” to close the first half with “Company” and confuse the monkey who still cannot see how ultra-complex female sexuality can ever be represented by a number written for very simplistic male emotion.

Still, everybody was on stage to open the second half with the obscure “God” from “Sondheim on Sondheim.” Self-deprecating and satirical - an amusing pick. Danielle de Niese found herself in the goo “On The Steps Of The Palace” (“Into The Woods”) before Lorna Dallas found herself reflected “In Buddy’s Eyes” (“Follies”).

The familiar “Another Hundred People” had Courtney Bowman stretching to contain her enthusiasm before “Multitudes of Amy” baffled the monkey. It guessed it was from “Company” – and it turned out to be a number cut from the show. Maybe it should go back in some day?

“So Many People” from “Saturday Night” was a little dull but fitted the energy of the previous song. Slowing right down again, “Loving You” from “Passion” was a strong romantic duet moment before the regret of Jamie Parker’s “The Road You Didn’t Take” (“Follies”) reminded us of middle-aged bitterness.

Probably better than “Could I Leave You” (“Follies”) which certainly left us guessing with a really punchy ending. “Tick Tock” (“Company”) is a lot more explicit but entertaining knowing where it leads in the actual show.

Totally changing pace, “Talent” and “Isn’t He Something” from “Roadshow” proved what a remarkable concert this is. How often are either considered for performance outside of the show itself?

“I Wish I Could Forget You” (“Passion”) seemed apt before “Finishing The Hat” (“Sunday In The Park With George”) led on to a beautifully arranged mixture of “Losing My Mind” and “Not A Day Goes By” (“Follies” / “Merrily We Roll Along”) brought the audience to its feet.

“Fear No More” (“The Frogs”) was a bit of a cooler before the final run in of “Goodbye For Now” (“Reds”) led into the entire cast returning to share the fact that “Anyone Can Whistle,” taking their bows before a little encore of “God.” Or Stephen Sondheim, as we all refer to him.

A hearing-impaired usher remarked to the monkey at the interval how clear the sound was, and it couldn’t agree more – Paul Smith’s design, mixed by Dylan Custance and Oliver Beetschen were defeated only by a slightly recalcitrant microphone on Ms Dallas. A fine achievement from skilled technicians adding that final touch.

The evening could have done with a compere perhaps, or even a better a programme listing the show titles and performers of each song (sadly, the orchestra can’t cope with PR requests, so the monkey has had to leave most numbers uncredited as it didn’t take full notes on the night).

A memorable evening from creators who clearly love musical theatre and want to share their knowledge and passion in the finest quality presentation possible. The monkey hopes to be at their next concert.

5 stars.

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