Another Hundred People – KT Sullivan and Jeff Harnar Sing Sondheim – Act Two at Crazy Coqs, London until 5 March.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Forty examples of the genius of Stephen Sondheim shoehorned into 70 minutes of total delight and sung by two of Manhattan’s best-loved performers at London’s most charming cabaret venue. To pinch a line from another great composer: Who could ask for anything more?
In fact, those lucky enough to be at the opening of KT Sullivan and Jeff Harnar’s second all-Sondheim revue – they brought Our Time over last year and this is Act Two – get considerably more.
The semi-operatic soprano of Sullivan has never sounded better nor her interpretation of Sondheim’s intentions, Harnar turns from the boy-next-door appeal of his younger days into a mature man of many parts, and the light jazz piano and arrangements of Jon Weber are flawless.
This is an immaculate, well-prepared, superbly-thought-out fusion of three mighty talents that truly honours the world’s greatest living composer, not least by giving Sondheim fans a rare chance to hear lesser-known works alongside the ’11 o’clock numbers’ everyone wants to hear.
‘Sand’ (from an unproduced 1992 film Singing Out Loud), two from Dick Tracy, and ‘Take Me to the World’ from the 1966 TV musical Evening Primrose are unusual enough, but topping the lot is their encore ‘How Do I Know?’, written when Sondheim was 15 for a school musical, By George.
Written in 1946, this was Sondheim’s first published song three years later but only fragments of By George remain. The eager composer asked his mentor, ‘Uncle’ Oscar Hammerstein, to critique his book and was told unceremoniously it was the worst thing he’d ever read, though not without talent. Things could only get better and, by goodness, didn’t they just!
What we don’t get is any linking material or information about what show each song comes from, Harnar explaining at the start that he and Sullivan want to let Sondheim’s lyrics speak for themselves without interruption.
Good idea, but the audience’s already considerable pleasure might well be increased if a detailed song list was placed on each table. After all, 40 songs, some barely known, others only fragments like Sullivan’s heart-breaking ‘No One Has Ever Loved Me’ (from Passion), are a lot to take in at one gulp.
While less enthusiastic about the first compilation, Our Time, last year which, for all its good ‘gender-bending’ intentions and cleverness, failed to float my boat in construction or delivery, this is a different class.
There is still a fair bit of gender-bending in this one-set follow-up with Harnar turning Little Red Riding Hood’s ‘I Know Things Now’ into a young gay man’s initiation and bagging jilted wife Beth’s plaintive ‘Not a Day Goes By’ (from Merrily We Roll Along) for himself.
Songs are often done in clusters, one throwing light on to the next, as in the quartet Sullivan assembles, three from Follies – ‘Waiting For The Girls Upstairs’, ‘Beautiful Girls’ and ‘The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me Blues’ interlaced with ‘Colour and Light’ from Sunday in the Park With George.
‘The Girls of Summer’ from Sullivan is linked with Harnar’s treatment of ‘Sand’ to give a duality of lost innocence and cherished romance, and while the connection between ‘Children Will Listen’ (from Into the Woods) and ‘The Ballad of Sweeney Todd’ is less obvious, it is a bold one superbly achieved by a soaring Harnar, greatly helped by terrific piano work from Weber.
An eye-opener of an evening, and if I could go again right now, I would. Here’s to Act Three!