“Take me to a world where I can be alive”
Classic Moments – Hidden Treasures is described as a ‘cabaret celebration of some of the lesser known works of Stephen Sondheim’ and forms the latest in a string of celebratory events in the composer’s 80th birthday year. Directed by TIm McArthur originally under the (better) title Secret Sondheim, this show features a five person ensemble and pianist, singing a range of songs both solo and in groups, with hints of choreography and a huge amount of both talent and enthusiasm.
On the one hand, it is highly appropriate that a show like this should take place to celebrate Sondheim’s birthday and highlight some of his lesser-known works; on the other hand, since it is his birthday year, many of these ‘lesser known’ works have actually been running in London recently, Assassins is still on and Anyone Can Whistle played in this very venue. And shows like these often run the danger of leaving you wishing for at least one or two of the more well-known songs. But McArthur and musical director David Harvey have fashioned a fast-paced journey that rips through 28 songs in just over 90 minutes, without any narrative constraints or superimposed plot.
The elegantly statuesque Valerie Cutko blew me away with all her numbers, including a hauntingly restrained ‘Girls of Summer’ and a flirtatious ‘Can That Boy Foxtrot’. Laura Armstrong’s delightful ‘The Boy From…’, fun ‘On The Steps Of The Palace’ and impassioned ‘Loving You’ marked her as someone to watch out for later in the year in Lend Me A Tenor. Jon-Paul Hevey, who I kind of fell in love with in Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi impressed most with his range, from the moving ‘Take Me To The World’ to a spirited ‘Everybody Says Don’t’ to the cheeky chappy routine of a medley with Tim McArthur. For as well as directing, McArthur is also a full member of the ensemble, my highlight being his ‘Could I Leave You’. Lucy Johnson was the fifth member of the ensemble but seemed to play a more minor part, only really coming into her own with a playful ‘Sooner or Later’, cavorting with the pianist.
Not everything worked as well as these though, as is often the case with revue shows which take songs out of their parent musicals. ‘Everybody Loves Louis’ sung to a basket of bread fell a little flat and recasting ‘Unworthy of Your Love’ as a traditional love song excises all of Sondheim’s dark humour from the piece, even if it was winningly performed. But the group numbers that opened and closed the show added some welcome variety into the sound mix.
The simple set with its picture frame motif focused us solely on the music and particularly the lyrics and altogether it played as an evening of great fun, peppered with moments of musical excellence. It was actually quite refreshing to see Sondheim numbers performed with such charm and warm-heartedness and none of the archness that can sometimes characterise productions of his plays. A hidden treasure indeed.