REVIEW: Charles Hutchinson’s verdict on Pick Me Up Theatre in Sondheim We Remember, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York ****

Sam Hird

THIS cabaret revue of songs from Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway shows, film scores and television specials will stand side by side with Pick Me Up Theatre’s production of Sondheim and James Lapine’s 1984 musical Sunday In The Park With George next week.

Sondheim We Remember is very much in the style of the late New York composer and lyricist’s own anthologies, such as the oft-performed Side By Side By Sondheim (1976), Putting It Together (1993/1999) and Sondheim On Sondheim (2010).

Putting this new one together is director Helen ‘Bells’ Spencer, working in tandem with musical director Clive Wass, perched on his keyboards on the mezzanine level, beside Catherine Wigley (flute), Judy Day (percussion) and Georgia Johnson (bass).

Audience members are greeted exuberantly at the door by singer Susannah Baines in the first of her series of spangly dresses (and Mrs Lovett’s trademark apron for her riotous rendition of the Act One-closing Worst Pies In London, reprising her 2016 role in Pick Me Up’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street).

Wednesday’s audience is corralled around tables, drink of choice in hand, in the black-box John Cooper Studio set up in minimalist style: three microphones and a table behind, from where Spencer’s company picks up gold cue cards to introduce the next song with a Sondheim snippet of show detail or bon mot.

Baritone Sam Hird has travelled home to York to participate, in a break from his Royal College of Music Masters studies that will be followed by further studies at the London college’s opera school (after his selection for one of only six places available).

Pirate-bearded since his last publicity shot was taken, dinner-suited Sam opens the show with I Remember from Evening Primrose.  Not for the only time, he leaves you with mouth agape at the beauty, warmth, resonance and controlled power of his voice. Operatic prowess surely beckons.

Upon singing Take Me To The World, Catherine Foster informs us that Emma Louise Dickinson is absent, unwell with the flu but hoping to return for later performances (featuring her renditions of So Many People, The Miller’s Song and I Wish I Could Forget You).

Catherine Foster’s bride, with Helen ‘Bells’ Spencer and Nick Sephton performing Getting Married Today in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Sondheim We Remember

Clever, witty lyricist and ever innovative and unpredictable composer, Sondheim is challenging but rewarding for singers, and so We Remember is a showcase for the vocal chops of Pick Me Up regulars, from young Matthew Warry (Giants In The Sky and Children Will Listen, both from Into The Woods) to Bells Spencer herself (Send In The  Clowns, that rare palpable Sondheim pop hit, the bravura Broadway Baby and an even better take on The Ladies Who Lunch, from Company, full of character and yearning).

The show flows between solo numbers, duets and trios, leading to a full company finale of Sunday in a taster of Robert Readman’s production of Sunday In The Park.

Alexandra Mather, revelling in Sondheim’s complexities, excels in Anyone Can Whistle, Not A Day Goes By and Act Two’s supreme I Know Things Now. Susannah Baines has fun with the aforementioned Worst Pies In London, dispensing dubious pies to audience members, and delivers a belting Losing My Mind too and later Loving You from Passion.

Florence Poskitt flits across stage in a party dress in a silent cameo contribution to one number before taking centre stage for a tender, wide-eyed Not While I’m Around from Sweeney Todd. In Act Two she joins Spencer and Mather for one of the humorous high points, I Never Do Anything Twice.

Matthew Jarry in Sondheim We Remember

Nick Sephton’s stoic groom contrasts amusingly with Foster and Spencer in Getting Married Today and duets resolutely with Andrew Roberts in Agony from Into The Woods and potently with Spencer in Unworthy Of Your Love from Assassins. Roberts and Sam Hird have a ball with The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened from Road Show.

Favourite duets? Father and son Mark and Sam Hird in No More, from Into The Woods, and Mather and Sam Hird’s With So Little To Be Sure Of, both being given due weight and emotion.

Sam has one last solo number, Being Alive, from Company: that baritone, so close up to the front tables, makes you feel very much alive.

More Sondheim is on its way from Pick Me Up: A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum will be happening at Theatre@41 this autumn (September 27 to October 5).

Further performance of Sondheim We Remember: 7.30pm tonight; 2.30pm, 7.30pm, Saturday. Box office: