The Court Theatre, Bernard Street, Addington, Christchurch

11/02/2012 - 03/03/2012

Production Details

Court Theatre Entertaining Side By Side 

Glitz, glamour and the most popular songs from a Broadway icon are all brought to The Court’s new stage in SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM. David McPhail narrates the musical revue, whilst Ali Harper, Michael Lee Porter and Juliet Reynolds-Midgley romp through the career of Stephen Sondheim, performing songs from WEST SIDE STORY, GYPSY, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM and FOLLIES.

Director Ross Gumbley says “Sondheim’s lyrics are still fresh as a daisy” and SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM “knits the songs together into a witty, clever and brilliant musical revue.”

While SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM is a comedic journey, Gumbley feels that many of the songs will resonate withChristchurchaudiences. “After the February earthquake, I listened to the song ‘I Remember’ and had tears in my eyes. That feeling of longing for something that you had and lost, or something you want again, mirrors the way many people feel aboutChristchurch”.

 “Sondheim’s combination of music and lyrics is second to none,” adds musical director Richard Marrett. “It’s a great pleasure to be working with this cast.”

Gumbley and set designer Julian Southgate have set the revue in “what starts out as a 1970s theatre – as if this was the venue for the very first performance of the show but nothing had been staged there since. The set evolves as the show rolls on, so that by the end it has all the glitz and glamour of Broadway,” says Gumbley “it seems appropriate to include a theme of restoration and rebuilding in The Court’s production.” The production also features two baby grand pianos on stage.

David McPhail is “Having a great time working with such a talented cast” and describes his role as “a bridge between the show and the audience.” McPhail last appeared at The Court in the 2007 stage adaptation of his popular TV series LETTER TO BLANCHY: STIR CRAZY, and has been actively involved in the fundraising efforts to build the new theatre.

“This is a uniquely theatrical production of SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM that I don’t think anyone has seen before,” says cast member Michael Lee Porter.

SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM has a strictly limited three-week season and runs from February 11 until March 3.

Performances:  11 February – 3 March 2012.

Show times:  6:30pm Mon/Thu, 7:30 Tue/Wed/Fri/Sat (2pm matinee Sat 18 February)

Venue:  The Court Theatre,Bernard St, Addington

Tickets:  Adults $48 | Senior $41 | Groups (10+) $39 | Student $29 | Child $19 

Bookings:  03 963 0870 or

Cast:  David McPhail, Ali Harper, Michael Lee Porter and Juliet Reynolds-Midgley  

Sondheim dated but marvellous

Review by Alan Scott 15th Feb 2012

Side by Side with Sondheim is billed as a musical entertainment and there is no arguing with that. Under Richard Marrett’s skillful musical direction, Ali Harper, Juliet Reynolds-Midgley and Michael Lee Porter treat us to two hours of amusing engaging and often compelling renditions of Stephen Sondheim’s compositions.

From West Side Story to Gypsy, from A Little Night Music to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sondheim’s wonderful lyrics and compositions, in all their satiric, ironic, comedic and plaintive take on the American way of life, are given a fresh airing in this musical revue which reprises his career as one of musical theatre’s greatest exponents.

There is a problem though. The revue was put together in the mid 1970’s, so what you have is half of Sondheim’s career in a somewhat passé format. Despite David McPhail’s natty white suit, and his attempt, as the narrator, to localise the humour, his continuity links between the songs firmly date the revue which at times comes across almost as a musical history lesson.

Of course, Sondheim’s magnificent songs are as topical as ever and, to get round the problem, Ross Gumbley cleverly sets the beginning of the revue in a 1970’s, dilapidated theatre.

Julian Southgate’s immensely intelligent and artistic design, utilising the extra depth of the new stage, allows the stunning transformation of this setting into a vista of night-time New York where, at the end of the show, a brilliantly devised and executed medley brings the audience right into the Broadway of today.

The three performers, at this point, are on such a roll you wish it could go on for another hour. It is musical theatre at its best. 


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Classy and ultimately uplifting

Review by Lindsay Clark 12th Feb 2012

Billed as a musical entertainment, this compilation of dramatically charged songs from the supreme master of musical theatre plays to a very different Christchurch and probably an even wearier world than the first time we experienced it at The Court a couple of decades ago. If anything, the wit seems even sharper, reflection more poignant, the music more engaging than before. Theatrically and musically this production is as funny and as moving as one could wish for.

The material is drawn from some of Stephen Sondheim’s best  known work, but also less familiar titles as well as musical theatre where he wrote lyrics for another composer. Its coherence comes from his unerring focus on folk, especially city folk and showbiz folk, ‘getting it together’; sometimes getting it right, sometimes getting it wrong, sometimes bewildered by the why of it all. What makes Sondheim’s treatment extraordinarily satisfying in the theatre are the characters and stories implied by his music and lyrics where every note and every word is apt.

The timing of this production has a retrospective appropriateness too, as the celebrated octogenarian has recently published two collections of his lyrics amplified by his own analysis and commentary. Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) and Look I Made a Hat: (Collected Lyrics  1981-2011), confirm the breadth and intelligence of his perception. They track a long part of the evolution of musical theatre.

Fittingly then, the initial set, surely one of Julian Southgate’s most evocative and imaginative, has us looking straight into the backstage space of a derelict theatre. Huge flats, some in tatters on their skeleton supports, are lit by steep and dusty down lights (a broken roof?).A glimpse of crimson curtain and an abandoned chaise longue are among the relics. The narrator (David McPhail ) enters probing his way by torchlight, but his attempts to throw the light switches are in vain. It is not until the music begins that life is breathed into the scene.

As the show presents its array of people and situations, the set itself adapts in clever ways. It is coupled with Brendan Albrey’s magical lighting design, which draws on moods set by the music to illuminate panels on the flats, which eventually transform into stylisedNew Yorksplendour.

The new space for Court productions allows a grander scale than the old arrangement, thanks to its lofty proportions. It does ask for larger than life stage presences and the Ross Gumbley/ Richard Marrett direction team has the challenge well under control. With Marrett himself as one pianist and Lea Henderson at a second grand, the music thrives. Annette Searle’s choreography in answer to word and note is slick and often wonderfully inventive, topping up the humour or underscoring the melancholy.

As to the human presences, the combined musical and acting talents of Ali Harper, Juliet Reynolds-Midgley and Michael Lee Porter are first rate. The range and finesse contributed by each as well as their effortless ensemble work make a grand night of it. Linking their numbers, narration by David McPhail is less assured and the localising of his script seems an unnecessary nod at drawing us in to an event which already throbs with appeal.

A classy production and ultimately an uplifting one. 


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