Theatre Review: PUTTING IT TOGETHER – Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

Simbi Akande in Putting It Together. Photo Credit: Phil Tragen

Simbi Akande in PUTTING IT TOGETHER. Photo Credit: Phil Tragen

Showcasing some of his most popular shows, PUTTING IT TOGETHER is a wonderful collection of the best of Stephen Sondheim’s works

Whether this is your first introduction to the music of Stephen Sondheim, or you’re a seasoned fan of his works, PUTTING IT TOGETHER is a wonderful example of the best of Sondheim’s works.

PUTTING IT TOGETHER showcases some of his most popular shows, such as SWEENEY TODD, INTO THE WOODS, and COMPANY, but also some of his more obscure pieces, such as THE FROGS or A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM. This Musical Revue is undoubtedly a celebration Sondheim’s works, but these songs are so skillfully woven together that you might believe that this was it’s own show all along.

These various unrelated Sondheim songs are drawn together by a Christmas cocktail party in a posh city apartment, and the story focuses on five nameless characters. We watch as one new relationship blossoms, another crumbles, and the stress and romance of this Christmas party heightens the tension.

Simbi Akande, Alex Cardall, Andrew Gallo, Gavin James, Lauren James Ray in Putting It Together. Phot: Phil Tragen

Simbi Akande, Alex Cardall, Andrew Gallo, Gavin James, Lauren James Ray in Putting It Together. Photo: Phil Tragen

We are introduced to the show with a humorous monologue by Andrew Gallo, a man with such incredible control over his eyebrows it is almost baffling. His opening number, “Invocations and Instructions to The Audience” (The Frogs) is very funny, but his shining moment is “Buddy’s Blues” (Follies) in Act 2. Gallo acts as a narrator throughout the performance but is also occasionally involved in the story, such as his duet of Everybody Ought To Have A Maid (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) with Lauren James Ray.

The show is arguably carried by its female performers. Lauren James Ray plays the bitter wife in a failing marriage and has some of the best moments in the show. She wonderfully balances the spiteful character with comedy and likeability. Her performance of “Getting Married Today” (Company) seemed somewhat relaxed and composed, and it lacked the manic, frantic energy that brings the comedy to this song. Nevertheless, “Ladies Who Lunch” (Company) was fantastic and captured her character beautifully.

Andrew Gallo in Putting It Together. Photo Credit: Phil Tragen

Andrew Gallo in Putting It Together. Photo Credit: Phil Tragen

Simbi Akande shows wonderful range, sometimes playing a sultry seductress, sometimes a naive young girl, excited by the prospect of new love. “Lovely” (Forum) gives both Akande and James Ray a chance to play off each other, which comes to a head in “There’s Always A Woman” (Anyone Can Whistle). She also does William Whelton’s great choreography beautifully.

The cast is completed by Gavin James and Alex Cardall. Cardall’s “Marry Me A Little” (cut from Company) is pensive and lovely, and he certainly does this lesser-known song justice. James occasionally looks awkward in some of the dance numbers, but his voice suits these songs beautifully.

The small cast works together so well, and their group performance of “Being Alive” (Company) is not to be missed. Emotional and stunningly arranged, it is the true highlight of the show.

PUTTING IT TOGETHER is a brilliant example of how Sondheim studies relationships between people in each and every one of his shows. A wonderful night at the theatre, whether you’re a die-hard Sondheim fan or not.

(4 / 5)

PUTTING IT TOGETHER runs at Hope Mill Theatre until 24 November 2018

Lucy is a nineteen-year-old aspiring actress from Glossop. She is currently studying Music Theatre at the University Of Central Lancashire and hopes to move onto a career in performance. She also has interests in reading, writing and music.