A Sonnet for Sondheim.
Presented by Lexi Sekuless and Belco Arts. Directed by Lexi Sekuless. Musical Accompanist. Carl Rafferty. Choreographer Annette Sharp. Cast: Jay Cameron. Katerina Smalley. Tim Sekuless, Martin Everett. Lexi Sekuless. Belco Arts. Belconnen Arts Centre. June 29 – July 2 2022. Bookings: https://www.belcoarts.com.au/
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins.
Let me begin with a summary. A Sonnet for Sondheim is a beautiful, uplifting and life affirming tribute to the late great Stephen Sondheim and to all artists who create and celebrate their art. Director Lexi Sekuless and her highly talented team of performers and creatives have interspersed songs from Sondheim’s musicals with writings by Shakespeare (Sonnet 23 and Enobarbus’s speech from Antony and Cleopatra), Elizabeth Barrett Browning (Sonnets from the Portuguese 38 and My Heart and I) and Emily Dickenson (Fame). The audience is reminded of the artist’s struggle and attempt to conquer the fear that envelops them in audition, rehearsal and performance. When in doubt and consumed by the anxiety of their art they can always turn to Sondheim for the reassurance in his lyrics for Parabasis from Aristophanes’ play The Frogs. “It really doesn’t matter. Don’t worry relax. After all you’re only human. Besides it’s only a play.”
In November last year Stephen Sondheim shuffled off this mortal coil at 91, leaving behind a legacy unrivalled in the history of music theatre. Others have scaled the heights but none with such profound humanity. Sondheim is the actors’ composer, who once advised the legendary Geraldine Turner “Bring along your talent and follow the punctuation” Lexi Sekuless’s new company did just that. The talent is extraordinary, the concept for A Sonnet to Sondheim ingenious and insightful and the celebration of the great man’s music both reverential and effusive. The cast boldly embrace the challenges of Sondheim’s occasionally discordant and emotionally resonant tone. Not only has Sekuless selected excellent singers, including herself, but also actors who understand the passion that Sondheim arouses in his lyrics and his music. Jay Cameron’s rendition of I Wish I Could Forget You from the seldom performed Passion is a magnificent performance by a shining light on the Canberra music theatre scene. Cameron deserves a solo show and Canberra is so fortunate to have an artist of his calibre. I have just returned from seeing Philip Quast, Geraldine Turner and Queenie van de Zandt performing the songs of Sondheim and Cameron belongs in their league.
|Jay Cameron and Katerina Smalley|
There are too many splendid moment in this tightly programmed show to mention. Let me list a few. Cameron’s Finishing My Hat from Sunday in the Park with George. Lexi Sekuless also brings out the longing and the heartache in Loving You from Passion. Tim Sekuless and Martin Everett capture the absurdity and comedy in the ironically titled Agony from Into The Woods. Sekuless shows his phenomenal range with Giants in the Sky also from Into The Woods and the pathos of Buddy’s Bkues from Follies Katerina Smalley’s rendition of a young woman’s desire to live life to the full skilfully negotiates the challenges of Sondheim’s The Miller’s Son from A Little Night Music. and Everybody says Don’t from Anyone Can Whistle.
|Tim Sekuless and Martin Everett|
The wonderful ensemble with the masterful Carl Rafferty on piano excel in the company numbers as they burst into frenetic life with You Could Drive A Person Crazy from Company and the glorious Sunday from Sunday in the Park With George. In fact I would have preferred that to be the closing company number, but I appreciate the sensitivity and true Sondheim humanity in the popular Send in the Clowns from A Little Night Music which brought to a close a show that could have continued to enthrall with Sondheim’s prolific repertoire..
Sekuless’s production with its sonnets, literary text and personal anecdotes referencing Sondheim’s profound grasp of human nature and his deep empathy for the human condition is a dazzling comet across Canberra’s cultural horizon. It is not spectacular in the sense of a Frozen or a Wicked. It is not a beacon of technical wizardry. It is an honest and heartfelt acknowledgment of Sondheim’s genius and the artist’s talent, tenacity and fortitude in the face of their own human failings and anxieties. It may only be a play but A Sonnet to Sondheim is a gift to the memory of Stephen Sondheim and to Canberra audiences.