Old Friends at Gielgud Theatre

Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends, A Great Big Broadway show is now on at the Gielgud Theatre. Following success of last years one night concert the show has returned to celebrate the life and works of Stephen Sondheim.

For those that have stumbled across this review accidentally let me explain the hype over Stephen Sondheim. A composer and lyricist who was responsible for both the music and lyrics for Sweeney Todd, Into The Woods, Sunday In The Park With George, Company, A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to The Forum and Follies as well as lyrics for West Side Story and Gypsy. He passed away on the 26th November 2021 and is considered one of the most iconic musical theatre composers of his generation.

Old Friends seeks to take some of Sondheim’s music and put them together in one concert. This is not the first time that this has been done with Sondheim’s works but it is the first time where the entire life works of Sondheim are the topic of a review show. There is no plot, no narrator, the show simply relies on Sondheim’s writing to do all of the talking.

With such a huge back catalogue to chose from Cameron Mackintosh had his work cut out however thanks to early assistance prior to his death with Sondheim himself and collaborators during the process he struck gold with the chosen songs and focused on those where Mackintosh and Sondheim had collaborated on the shows together. There was a brilliant balance struck between uptempo numbers and slower ballads as well his best known numbers combined with some songs that you may not expect. One thing was clear though, all numbers were packed full of opportunities to show personality.

This personality and talent was at the forefront of the cast. Packed full of West End and Broadway royalty, Old Friends is possibly the most star packed shows I have seen. I do not think it would be hyperbole to say that this cast is truly a one in a lifetime cast. From Bernadette Peters making her West End debut who and Lea Salonga making her return to the West End alongside the likes of Janie Dee, Bonnie Langford, Clare Burt, Joanna Riding and Jeremy Secomb as well as fresh talent such as Jac Yarrow Marley Fenton and Beatrice Penny-Toure. Thanks to this we got to see icons of the musical theatre world reprise some of their iconic roles as well as unexpected but utterly enjoyable pairings. Under the direction of Matthew Bourne, we saw Lea Salonga and Jeremy Secomb paired together as Lovett and Todd, Bradley Jaden and Bernadette Peters as the Wolf and Little Red for ‘I Know Thigs Now’ and ‘Hello Little Girl,’ and Bernadette Peters, Joanna Riding and Clare Burt delivered a hilarious ‘You Gotta Get A Gimmick.’

It wasn’t just the pairings and the group numbers that brought the house down, Bonnie Langford showed why she is one of the West Ends living legends with her rendition of ‘I’m Still Here,’ and Janie Dee showed off her comedic chops with ‘The Boy From.’

Musically the cast were supported by a 14 piece orchestra under the direction of Alfonso Casado Trigo. Both acts opened with a chance for the musicians to shine, Act 1 with Sunday In The Park With George and Act 2 with the Overture from Merrily We Roll Along.

Whilst the talent and music on stage spoke for itself the production values of the show had a lot to live up to but they were exemplary. The set design by Matt Kinley started off as what looked like a deceptively simple set but as the show proceeded it became clear that the beautifully designed 2 towers worked wonderfully for the Into The Woods, West Side Story and Sweeny Todd elements and the clever projections by George Reeve ensured that the staging always looked immaculate.

Old Friends is a chance not only hear some of Sondheim’s most beautiful work but a unique opportunity to see some of the biggest West End and Broadway stars under one roof performing these iconic songs.

Old Friends is on at the Gielgud Theatre until 6th January. You can find out more and book tickets here.

If you like this review you might also like my review of Cabaret, Crazy For You and Guys and Dolls.

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