The Ladies Who Lunch: A Celebration of Sondheim’s Women was performed at The Pheasantry, London.
It’s hard to think of any composer who writes better songs, funny or sad, for the opposite sex than Stephen Sondheim and that view was strengthened when 22 of his best were given the full treatment by the talented quartette of Katy Secombe, Rebecca Caine, Alex Young and Emily Carewe-Jeffries in The Ladies Who Lunch.
More revue than cabaret, this was a Sondheim compilation where the songs were allowed to speak for themselves as there was very little chat or explanation of the material.
And what a treat to hear the title song, forever associated with the great Elaine Stritch, given a superb new spin by the loveable Secombe. Les Miserables’ one-time Madame Thenardier is a very funny lady indeed – as is Young, one of the best winners of the prestigious The Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year Award competition in 2010 and very much a name to watch.
Both have perfect timing and Secombe’s wicked sense of humour worked a treat in the naughty ‘I Never Do Anything Twice’, written by Sondheim for a long-forgotten 1976 film The Seven Per Cent Solution. Thankfully, this killer of a song has proved far more durable than the movie.
Secombe was also bang on the money in that anthem from Follies ‘I’m Still Here’ and when Caine, the original Cosette in Les Mis and a West End performer in musical theatre and opera for 30 years, teamed up with her for ‘There’s Always a Woman’ from Anyone Can Whistle, it was one of the night’s most magical moments.
While some of the cleverest songs on the planet regularly produced tears of laughter from a rare midweek Pheasantry full house, it was Caine’s heart-rending treatment of ‘In Buddy’s Eyes’ (from Follies), perhaps the most painful song about love, marriage and getting old ever written, that drew tears of another kind.
Young is always a joy with songs that require her considerable acting skills such as ‘Sunday in the Park With George’ and ‘The Miller’s Son’ and if she has a fault, it is that she can be a little shrill on the high notes, a comment also applicable to the 2013 Royal Academy of Music award winner Carewe-Jeffries.
This young lady, who was born to sing given that her mother is Mary Carewe, herself a singer of some renown, put this lovely evening together with gifted musical director-composer Theo Jamieson, who provided piano accompaniment and new arrangements.
Young and Carewe-Jeffries must have benefited from working with two such experienced performers and much can be learned from the less-is-more approach of Caine, who excelled in the quieter, reflective songs.
To do justice to material of the beauty of ‘In Buddy’s Eyes’, ‘Green Finch and Linnet Bird’ (from Sweeney Todd) and ‘I Remember’ (from Evening Primrose, a 1966 made-for-TV musical which saw Psycho star Anthony Perkins in rare singing mode) is never easy but Caine’s sweetly-pitched soprano was a match for all of them.
The team’s finale, ‘Children Will Listen’ (from Into the Woods), was followed by such enthusiastic applause that an encore was clearly expected but the girls had to sheepishly admit that nothing had been prepared, a minor disappointment easy to forgive after all the preparation that had gone into two well-rehearsed 40-minute sets.
Only a one-off at the moment, The Ladies Who Lunch is a tasty treat well worth tucking into if these five friends can find the time to get together again for an action replay.