BRACING, BELTING, BENIGN
At the end of the evening the great diva, director and muse informs us that we too must sing. In a packed house, on the far side of a pandemic which made us fear one another’s very breath, we join the posse of old-timers and ingenu(e)s she has brought onstage to this showcase: a cosy but sharp-worked cabaret of reminiscence and tributes to the musical theatre greats like Sondheim, Hamlisch and LeGrand. There’s even, near the end, a memorable rendering of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now, though I have never before heard it done as a wild belting showtune. Our finale though under orders is Sondheim: the great anthem to youthful optimism from Merrily We Roll Along:
“Edges are blurring all around, yesterday is done…
It’s our time, breathe it in: worlds to change and worlds to win!”
Yes. Gulp. With so many young onstage around the old lioness, that hits you. No room here for the coolly emotionless; you either leave this show vowing to devote your life to musical theatre and its people, or equally resolved never to go near one again. It’s that intense. I took a young companion, not part of that world or its fans, and worried a bit, giving her permission to duck out at the interval if she wanted. I am happy to say that it got her, like everyone, by the scruff of the neck from the first belting ensemble and kept her breathless through Friedman’s scattergun memories, song after song and rolling fragments of shows (including a spectacular Sweeney Todd sequence and the young ensemble’s moving fragment from A Chorus Line).
That last one was moving, because even without pandemic interregna, they really do have difficult worlds to win. Desmonda Cathabel from Indonesia will win some: she packed in her job in Covid and sent a tape to the Royal College of Music and won a scholarship; Alfie, Maria Friedman’s own son, was remarkable too, and throughout the changing casts there are reports of other flames burning into the art’s future.
The ensemble Windmills of Your Mind shook the roof. Oldster and youngster side by side, we reeled. Hell, what can I say? Not for us civilians to award prissy star-ratings to odd, cosy, enormous indulgences like this. It’s running till 17 April, with some rolling casts. We both skipped happily out, feeling filled. Though I had to calm myself down with the considerably quieter and more restrained Joni Mitchell version of Both Sides Now, before bed was possible.
Menierchocolatefactory.com To 17 April