In the spring of 2022, the renowned impresario Cameron Mackintosh curated a magnificent tribute to the late Stephen Sondheim, attended by a host of VIPs, at the West End theater named after the legendary composer. This extraordinary event, featuring 40 of Sondheim’s most iconic songs, has made a triumphant return for a three-month stint at the nearby Gielgud Theatre. Co-directed by Matthew Bourne and the seasoned Sondheim expert Julia McKenzie, and with tastefully understated choreography by Stephen Mear, the show is a truly exceptional evening. In the words of Clive Davis from The Times, “If you have a passion for musical theater, this is an unmissable experience.”
Dubbed “A Great Big Broadway Show,” the production titled “Old Friends” has been hailed as a masterpiece of pure class by Patricia Nicol in The Sunday Times. It serves as both a poignant farewell to a Broadway titan and an exuberant celebration of life, love, and creativity, with all its beautiful chaos. The cast is led by the revered American Sondheim interpreter Bernadette Peters, making her West End debut at the age of 75, alongside Broadway star Lea Salonga. The ensemble also features prominent British talents like Janie Dee, Joanna Riding, Bonnie Langford, Gavin Lee, and Jason Pennycook. The repertoire is nothing short of glorious, encompassing lively numbers from “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” the soul-stirring “Tonight” from “West Side Story,” and the intense drama of “Sweeney Todd.” Additionally, the audience is treated to emotionally charged performances of torch songs such as “I’m Still Here” (earning Langford well-deserved cheers), a soulful rendition of “Send in the Clowns” by Peters, and a powerful ensemble delivery of “Being Alive.”
This production, as noted by Marianka Swain in The Daily Telegraph, distinguishes itself by its absence of celebrity cameos, opting instead for a more cohesive and collective effort. The result is a polished and evidently unified performance, akin to a collaboration of musical theater superheroes. However, it transcends mere virtuosity. While paying homage to Sondheim’s masterpieces, the performers skillfully convey the sense of loss shared by both them and the audience. It’s not just a spectacular Broadway show; it’s a deeply moving portrayal that truly captures the essence of Sondheim’s legacy. This “great big Broadway show” unquestionably deserves to become a monumental hit in the West End, a sentiment echoed by critics and audiences alike.