THERE’S something about a Stephen Sondheim melody that just gets under your skin. EBOS Musical Theatre Company at South Hill Park certainly succeeded in transmitting this musical vibe, with strong choreography, great voices and a fabulous stage set bringing the catchy numbers to life.
New Yorker Robert (played by Stuart Hayllor, who we'd also seen in a more sinister turn as Bill Sikes in South Hill Park's production of Oliver!), known to his close-knit circle of friends as Bobby, reaches his 35th birthday and as he hits this milestone and blows out his birthday candles, he can't quite think of a wish.
His friends are all tying the knot or already married and they're keen to make sure Bobby also settles down. Bobby then segues between his coupled-up companions, mulling over their life choices, all the while considering the pros and cons of each of his three girlfriends: naive April, hip and cosmopolitan Marta, and girlie Kate.
As Bobby spends time with each of his lady friends, each offering a different pace of life, their stories pan out in several directions.
We meet a long-time married teetotal couple who extol the virtues of dieting and karate, infused with the odd tipple and a bite or two; a Southern belle and her beau who may be up for switching teams; a neurotic Catholic bride-to-be and her long-suffering, patient, Jewish groom, with a high-voltage will-they-won't-they wedding morning; and others who indulge in drink, drugs and serial marriage so that reality doesn't bite too hard.
The troupe kept up the pace with flawless and complex key changes throughout each tune, running the gamut of emotions from pathos to hilarity.
The stage featured a bar and bar stools in the background, creating the feel of a busy social whirl, while centre stage was a wonderful multitasking sofabed where Bobby's trysts and friendships were played out, including a frisky routine with flight attendant April, leading to the wonderful tune Barcelona, with a clever dialogue about commitment.
There were some powerful set-pieces and meaningful moments shared between the couples, all the while Bobby meandering through and chewing the fat, ambivalent to the end.
This was a melodic, amusing, wistful look at companionship, romance and the stuff of life. The music was so contagious that the next morning my husband and I found ourselves addressing our two children through the medium of Sondheim's catchy and addictive tunes.
Review: Natalie Aldred