Cameron Mackintosh Judi Dench Damian Lewis Celebrates Sondheim – Deadline

All eyes were on Judi Dench.

The legendary actress sat on stage right performing one of Stephen Sondheim’s greatest hits. The sound of his voice, accompanied by a 25-piece orchestra conducted by Alfonso Casado Trigo, amazed a hushed audience.

There was spontaneous applause. The leading lady was taken offstage. She reappeared moments later to perform the number again.

“Goosebumps,” said Cameron Mackintosh, echoing the thoughts of those lucky enough to be gathered in the stalls of The Stephen Sondheim Theater in London for several hours on Monday, for a long day and night of technical rehearsal for tomorrow night’s celebration of Sondheim, a theater giant, who died last November at the age of 91.

Tuesday’s one-night show is called Old Friends, named after a number from the composer’s 1981 musical, happily We drive.

Mackintosh directed Old Friends with Matthew Bourne and Maria Friedman and choreography by Stephen Mear.

It has a cast of thirty-eight;23 including headliners:

Michael Ball, Helena Bonham Carter, Rob Brydon, Petula Clark, Rosalie Craig, Janie Dee, Judi Dench, Daniel Evans, Maria Friedman, Haydn Gwynne, Bonnie Langford, Damian Lewis, Julia McKenzie, Julian Ovenden, Bernadette Peters, Siân Phillips, Jon Robyns, Clive Rowe, Jenna Russell, Imelda Staunton, Charlie Stemp, Gary Wilmot and Michael D. Xavier.

The co-stars are also impressive: Shan Ako, Christine Allado, Holly-Anne Hull, Ashley Campbell, Anna-Jane Casey, Desmonda Cathabel, Josefina Gabrielle, Louis Gaunt, Amy Griffiths, Rob Houchen, Bradley Jaden, Ian McLarnon, Jeremy Secomb , Jordan Shaw and Matthew White.

A company of this size, in such a spectacular show, would normally head to the larger Royal Albert Hall. Unthinkable, said Mackintosh. It must have been the Sondheim.

Tickets for Sondheim sold out quickly. Mackintosh asked the cast for permission to broadcast Old Friends live via satellite at the Prince Edward Theatre, three blocks away. There are a few tickets left for this venue.

He may well end up on TV, the impresario said. Although he warned that the actors must be consulted first, with negatives to follow. Look, there’s a possibility of extra life, we’ll see.

“Right now, all I’m interested in is getting it rolling for tomorrow night…”, at which point he was called on stage to do his trick.

“Let me entertain you,” he began, “with something familiar, something special.”

The music swelled, her voice went into singing mode.

“It was supposed to happen,” Mackintosh told Deadline later.

Sir Cameron insisted that Deadline doesn’t “spoil the surprises” by revealing who will play which numbers, until after Tuesday’s event, to benefit the newly created Stephen Sondheim Foundation. He said Judi Dench, 87, a fearsome chief M spy in James Bond films, would “sue Deadline” if he released the title of the song that brought some viewers to tears.

Mackintosh has made a concession regarding Petula Clark, who turns ninety in November. She recorded her first Sondheim song in 1959. He revealed that Clark, who performs eight times a week in Disney’s Mary Poppins musical to Prince Edward of London, will sing I’m Still Here, this great anthem of survival from Sondheim’s 1971 musical Follies.

“Elaine Paige was young when she did it,” he said, a mischievous look forming on his face.

“She says now I’m Still Here should not be performed by anyone under the age of eighty.

The title of old friends has a triple meaning for Mackintosh who heard his first Sondheim in the 1970s. The songs weren’t widely known at the time, he says. “Now they’re old friends… they’re all famous standards, which they weren’t when we started. That’s what time has done,” he said.

Mackintosh continued: “In his lifetime, the man who is famous as the world’s greatest lyricist also, you may say, wrote some of the greatest melodies ever written for the theatre. And, I think, that’s what Old Friends celebrates and why I say in my introduction that Steve was always a Broadway baby, at heart,” Mackintosh told Deadline just as Bernadette Peters walked on stage, with Damian Lewis not far behind.

Sitting behind us, away from the lighting, sound and other technical desks set up across the stands, actor Clive Rowe was mesmerized by the performers on stage.

He had been released to return home two hours earlier. “I’m sitting here like a kid in a candy store. I’m just a fan now because I won’t be able to see stuff like that because I’ll be in it, he told Deadline.

“We won’t see people like that again,” he added.

By the way, show titles were not included in the ban. During our nearly seven-hour session during the technical rehearsals, we heard numbers among the following: Gypsy, A funny thing happened on the way to the forum; Company, Follies, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the park with George,In the woods, passion – and the movie Dick Tracy.

And, who knows, there might one day be a full-fledged stage show called… Old Friends.

About Selena J. Killeen

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