23 May

The room upstairs at the Arts has undergone a transformation. From a gloomy dark room, it has suddenly become a spacious cabaret venue. There are huge windows on one side and with the curtains open we are bathed in natural light. One wall is covered by a blown up theatrical print. Small tables and chairs are spread out around the room and on the tiny stage there are Musical Director Simon Holt at the piano, Pete Hunt on double Bass and Nathan Harding on reeds.
The new design of the room is based on 54 Below in New York and it has the same welcoming and glamorous appearance -a perfect setting for a glorious feast of songs by the Master. It enables the director to plant his actors all around the room with enough space for them to move about between members of the audience.
Each of the eight singers has one or several chances to shine alone. Belinda Wollaston who has worked with Ray Rackham as one of the title characters in his highly successful “Judy!” performs “Can that boy Foxtrot”(a comedy number cut from Follies) using male members of the company.
One of the highlights is presented by Oscar Conlon-Morrey. He sings “Losing my Mind” which I have never seen done by a man before. It is extremely moving, honest and, one feels, deeply felt. He also makes an unusually intelligent version of “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story. This is a huge talent.
Tom Elliot Reade, Rebecca Gilliland and Anita Louise Combe all have solo numbers but in this ensemble show they are hardly ever allowed to keep it to themselves. Most events are backed by the rest of the cast.
Lowrie Ann Davies, who took over from Jamie Birkett at the last minute, completes ‘Not getting married’ at break neck speed and ‘The Boy from…’ with a little help from the others. The same with Christopher Dickens ‘The Little Things you do together’ and Michael Vinsen’s dance number “All I need is the girl” which becomes a trio.
“Being Alive” a company anthem with brilliant harmonies ends the show.
The choice of songs is eclectic. From Forum, West Side Story, Follies, Gypsy, Assassins, Sweeney, Company – too many to list them all. Sondheim has practically devised, written and composed the whole of the last and present century’s musical theatre sometimes with Bernstein, Mary Rodgers or Jule Styne but usually single handed –
It is amazing how many facets of the Love story Sondheim can introduce and Ray knows them all so well. He is a romantic at heart and has chosen his favourites even though some of the numbers were cut from well-known productions and are not as familiar.
This is a joyous show about a subject that affects every human being on this planet. How can it fail?.
It is only on for one week at this particular venue. I think this is where it should be seen.

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