GOD, a Musical Celebration and Parody of Sondheim – London Theatre Workshop

Emma Odell, Kris Olsen and Corrine Priest in God!

Emma Odell, Kris Olsen and Corrine Priest, pictured in rehearsal for God, a Musical Celebration and Parody of Stephen Sondheim at the London Theatre Workshop, Fulham

GOD, a Musical Celebration and Parody of Stephen Sondheim at the London Theatre Workshop, Fulham continues until 12 July.

We’ve had a glut of Sondheim compilation shows recently – Just Another Love Story at the same London Theatre Workshop venue as this affectionate homage to his genius was one of the best – but GOD is one with a delightful difference and one that the great man himself would surely find amusing.

Many parodists have gently or not-so-gently taken the Mick (or should it be Steve?) out of Sondheim’s complex and impossible-to-sing lyrics and song lines that just…… stop. And those are well represented in this short-but-sweet hour.

But nobody has encouraged young songwriters (such as ill-fated Rent composer Jonathan Larson, whose ‘Sunday’ is remembered here) more over the years and the parodies intertwine with some fine new material written by emerging talent in the Sondheim image such as Eamonn O’Dwyer, Matt Board and Alex Parker and performed by the stars of tomorrow.

It is impossible not to get carried along by the enthusiasm of the brilliant cast of four, two outstanding Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year winners in Kris Olsen (2012) and Corrine Priest (2014) and two finalists Emma Odell (2009) and Jay Worley (2014).

And director Alastair Knights and composer-MD Parker, both garlanded with praise for another Sondheim compilation, Putting It Together, have inserted bits of action and props on a songsheet-littered stage to make this golden hour far more than just four young people standing up and running through a few funny songs.

The show is the long-standing brainchild of Stephen Sondheim Society administrator Lynne Chapman who has had a parody show in mind ever since hearing an updated version of Cole Porter’s ’Brush Up Your Sondheim’ by a West London cabaret group called Vamp Til Ready back in 1998.

Finally a dream has become reality for just six performances to celebrate the Society’s 20th anniversary with Lynne herself producing the show with help from the SSS trustees and the backing of Society member Ray Rackham, the artistic director at this 65-seater fringe space above the Eel Brook hostelry in the New Kings Road.

In what must be her professional debut (as a week with GOD was part of her prize for winning this year’s Student of the Year contest at the Garrick in May), Corrine Priest again gives every indication of being a talent bound for very high rank with marvellous treatments of the Alan Chapman classic ’Everybody Wants to Be Sondheim’ and ‘Dear Mr Sondheim’, another cutting tribute to their fellow New Yorker by Annie Hughes and Wayne Abravanel.

This young lady is in contact with every nuance of every line she sings and if I say she is an actress first and singer second, that is in no way denigrating the quality of her voice, merely emphasising that she is the Janie Dee of the next generation.

When it comes to voices, few have a better one than Kris Olsen, at his best with ’Hummable’ – Matt Board has written new lyrics for Stephen Schwartz’s original – and Fred Silver’s ’I’m Getting Sick of Sondheim’.

Olsen is also involved (with the others) in one of the best moments, a stunning new song by regular Stiles & Drewe New Song competition finalist  Eamonn O’Dwyer called ’Shadows’, specially written for the evening and well up to the standard of the RAM graduate’s commended ‘Something For the Pain’ which Priest performed so unforgettably at the Garrick.

Board’s ‘Perfectly Put Together’ sung by Priest and the enchanting Emma Odell, the Jay Worley solo ‘Marshall Levin’ by Andrew Lippa, and Alex Parker’s own moving ‘The Road Ahead’ (sadly not mentioned in a rather confusing programme in which the songs are not listed in sung order), which bring the show to an all-too-quick end, are three more fresh compositions it will be a pleasure to hear again at a weekend second helping of what my guest (and good judge) called “a sophisticated palette of beautifully-sung songs”.

And that title, GOD? It was Sondheim himself who penned a tongue-in-cheek response to a magazine headline ‘Is Sondheim God?’ with the revue song: “God!/I mean the man’s a/God!/Wrote the score to/Sweeney Todd!/With a nod/To De Sade/Well, he’s odd/Well, he’s/God!/Smart!/The lyrics are so smart!/It has heart/ Well, in part…/Let’s not start…/Call it art/No, call it/God!”

And while this love of GOD will be all the better understood and appreciated if you arrive having brushed up your Sondheim, the beauty of the show is there are laughs and tears in it for anyone and everyone who loves talent.

Jeremy Chapman

Readers may also be interested in:

Sondheim Society marks anniversary with God, a celebration and parody – News

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