Saturday, June 25, 2022



 Moments in the Woods – Songs and stories of Sondheim.

Directed by Mitchell Butel.Musical director. Josh van Konkelenberg. Arranger: Daryl Wallis.John McDermott on Drums. Alana Dawes on Bass. Christina Guala and Vashti Tyrell on Woodwinds. Her Majesty’s Theatre. Adelaide Cabaret Festival in association with the Adelaide Festival Centre. June 23rd. 2022

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Stephen Sondheim’s death last year, even at the age of 91, sent shock waves through the musical theatre world. It seemed most fitting then that  the festival should include a tribute concert in honour of the great composer, lyricist, and mentor. And who better than five of the finest exponents of Sondheim’s songs in the country to celebrate his genius?

Josie Lane, Queenie van de Zandt and Mitchell Butel in Moments in the Woods

Director Mitchell Butel is joined by Queenie van de Zandt, Josie Lane, Geraldine Turner and Philip Quast to perform Sondheim’s  songs, including many that they have performed in his musicals in Australia and internationally. What follows is a concert that would make the great man proud. From the moment the performers and the musicians join together with Hey Old Friends from Merrily We Roll Along they fill the theatre with love. Moments in the Woods – Songs and stories of Sondheim is more than a tribute concert. It is a joyous celebration of Sondheim’s vast talent and profound humanity. Each performer and I suspect most members of the audience have been touched, moved and inspired by the man and his work. Sondheim is the Musical’s Shakespeare. 


Queenie van de Zandt and Mitchell Butel
In an evening of sheer elation, Sondheim’s spirit soars upon the voices of the five performers imbued with his inspiration. Sondheim is the actor’s composer and the evening is far more than brilliant renditions of Daryl Wallis’s faithful arrangements of Sondheim’s songs. Each singer embodies the character of the song, breathing life into each note and playing the storyteller of life’s intricate tapestry. In a show with too many glittering gems of the master’s genius to mention, each artist is given the opportunity to shine. 


Josie Lane
The delightfully vivacious Josie Lane enchants with her rendition of Red Riding Hood’s number from Into the Woods and displays her comedic talent with the opening number of Sunday in the Park with George, sung with Philip Quast as artist, George Seurat. Queenie van de Zandt captures every ounce of vitriol and nastiness as the witch in Into The Woods.

Philip Quast and Geraldine Turner
Butel celebrates Sondheim’s skill as a lyricist with a cocky performance of Darryl Wallis’s rather strange and uncharacteristic arrangement of Something’s Coming from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. Audiences are gifted with Send in the Clowns from A Little Night Music by the legendary Geraldine Turner, who blew me away when she sang The Miller’s Son, Petra’s song in A Little Night Music in Her Majesty’s Theatre in 1978. The legendary grand dame of Sondheim’s musicals and the first person to release a solo album of his songs, Turner’s Ladies who Lunch from Company brought the house down.  Butel announced that it was her birthday and the entire audience joined in to sing a stirring rendition of Happy Birthday. Thanks to the blessing of NT Live many may have seen Philip Quast’s performance of the famous Benjamin Stone from Follies. On stage Quast’s moving rendition of Ben’s Song exhibits the private anguish and self doubt of the celebrity. The familiar and the unfamiliar make up a fascinating evening of songs to celebrate the prolific life of an extraordinary and innovative talent. From solo renditions to duets such as Butel and Quast’s hilarious Agony from Into The Woods and Lane and van de Zandt’s Take Me To The World from Evening Primrose to full company numbers ending in a finale of Sunday from Sunday in the Park With George, this night of tribute sparkles with song and stories.

Geraldine Turner
It is an unforgettable night of reminiscences told adoringly by performers who knew Sondheim personally. “Bring your talent and observe the punctuation.” Sondheim told Turner. He would do the rest. “And he did.” she added. Quast recounted the time that he was doing fishing knots in his dressing room (“As one does”) and the ever curious composer asked him to show him how. A besotted Butel proudly showed a letter that he received from the prodigious letter writer. 


After interval the gems just kept sparkling brighter in the Ballad section of the night. Those who were there to witness will never forget Turner’s wonderfully cockney rendition of Mrs Lovett’s A Little Priest from Sweeney Todd or Butel’s sensitively sung Nothing Else Will Harm You from the same musical. Van De Zandt’s Who’s That Woman from Sondheim’s  Follies. And who will ever forget Lane’s brilliant, triumphant There Won’t be Trumpets from Anyone Can Whistle

The cast of Moments in the Woods
In his little known musical Evening Primrose Sondheim reveals his mantra in the song Take Me To The World. As a fitting finale to the programme Quast sings a combined version of Shakespeare’s song Fear No More the Heat of the Sun and Caesar’s speech to Calpurnia from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar : “It seems to me most strange that men should fear seeing that death a necessary end will come when it will came.” It came as it does to Sondheim last year and the company read out some of the tributes that poured in to mourn his loss to the world of musical theatre. But Moments in the Woods- the Songs and Stories of Sondheim will remain for all fortunate enough to be at Her Majesty’s Theatre on June 23rd as a lasting testimony to the great man and the artists who so powerfully and lovingly brought forth their amazing talent to do Stephen Sondheim proud.     

Photos by Claudio Raschella