On Sunday 25th October 2015, a cast of theatrical legends will take to the stage at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane to star in Hey, Old Friends, an 85th birthday tribute to Stephen Sondheim.
Featuring over 30 principals, a 40-piece orchestra led by Gareth Valentine and a chorus from ArtsEd, the show will celebrate the greatest songs and shows by Sondheim – a man who needs no introduction. The show is in aid of The Silver Line and The Stephen Sondheim Society.
Martin Milnes, Michael Peavoy, Tim Flavin, Anita Harris, Nicholas Parsons, Rula Lenska, Robert Meadmore & Dominic Ferris
Recently I joined some of the stars of Hey, Old Friends - including national treasure Nicholas Parsons, Carry On icon Anita Harris and US leading man Tim Flavin plus Olivier Award-winning director/choreographer Bill Deamer – behind the scenes at their photo shoot with acclaimed theatre photographer Darren Bell. We discussed the beauty of Sondheim’s work, the excitement surrounding the gala and much, much more…
“I wanted to get involved because I love Sondheim! My favourite of his shows is Into The Woods because, not only do I think it’s the most fantastic show ever written or conceived, but also because I was in it! I never thought I would be in a Sondheim show because I’m not singer, and you have to be a very experienced singer to be able to tackle big Sondheim numbers… and then all of a sudden there was I in Into The Woods!
“Sondheim has got this amazing diverse talent; he seems to have this huge understanding of human nature so can enter into the psyche of all kinds of people. It’s remarkable that someone who can write Into The Woods which is based on fairy tales can also write something like Sweeney Todd. He is, I think, a genius! It’s important that we continue to celebrate him because he’s such an incredible talent!”
“I’m coming back to Drury Lane to do another Stephen Sondheim birthday tribute! I directed and choreographed the seventy-fifth birthday tribute for Stephen and it was such a huge success, it was incredible! Sometimes people stick to all the old favourites which is fine, but we always like to bring something different to it which is what we’re doing for this eightieth show.
“Everything Sondheim writes has something to say. Be it something from Follies or Company – which is one of my favourite shows – the music and lyrics are always just exquisite and way, way ahead of their time. I did Follies at the Palladium which was hugely successful and I would love to have another go at it… I would also love to have a go at doing Company. It is still the most relevant piece of theatre – it’s just perfect, it’s life!”
“Each time you do a Sondheim show it’s like a love affair. I played Buddy in Follies at the London Palladium in 2007. My Sally was Maria Friedman and it was an absolute joy because I’ve always loved that score. ‘In Buddy's Eyes’ is a beautiful song and to stand there and [jokingly] suffer through Maria Friedman singing that song was murder [laughs]!
“People usually use the expression ‘living legend’ to describe an entertainer – like Liza Minnelli is a living legend – but you don’t often hear it being used to describe a composer or lyricist. However, Stephen Sondheim is a living legend! His has stood the test of time and will continue to do so.”
“Obviously Sondheim’s music speaks for itself, it’s so well-crafted as it stands so strong. To try and put another stamp on that could be controversial, but I hope it’s not and that people like what we’ve done! I particularly love his earlier works, I love Side By Side. Stephen never tried to follow in anybody’s footsteps; he has always done his own thing and made it work. He does what he wants to do when it comes to every element of a show and sticks with it… and it works!”
“I love any excuse to sing Sondheim! He is the best! He has managed to sculpt, define and re-define musical theatre in his way and stuck to it; to celebrate that is a no-brainer. For me, ‘Finishing the Hat’ is my go-to song, purely because of its beauty and the story it tells. It’s a proper actor’s song – it’s just perfect! You could pick any song from Into The Woods and sit and analyse it for hours.
“I think it’s important to celebrate Sondheim because he goes to emotional places that other musical theatre writers don’t. He gets beneath your surface and asks challenging questions without you even realising that he’s doing it. We’re never going to get anything new if we don’t celebrate the person who changed it all in the first place.”
“There was an interview Sondheim gave in which he said he could justify every single note and word that he has ever written, and when you look into his work you think “Yes, you absolutely can”. My favourite musical is Follies and, from within the show, ‘I’m Still Here’ really speaks to me because there is so much truth in that song. It is about being happy in yourself and surviving which I think everybody can relate to.”
“With the brilliance of his work, Sondheim makes any artist doubly think of the depth of the lyric, he’s very inspirational and his work is always a huge challenge to take on. From a woman’s point of view, he always gives a female artist something to bite on [laughs]! There are so many examples, but at the moment I’m looking at a song from one of his television productions called Evening Primrose.
“When you get involved with a show like this, it’s a learning curve - you never stop learning about Sondheim! To continuously be introduced to new music and new songs from such a brilliant man is incredible. His work is enlightening, there’s always a secret around the corner to discover. It’s very exciting!”
Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Hey, Old Friends! An 85th Birthday Tribute To Stephen Sondheim takes place at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane at 7.30pm on Sunday 25th October 2015. Please visit www.reallyusefultheatres.co.uk for further information and tickets.
ALL PHOTOS BY DARREN BELL