Drawing: Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends tribute concert 3 May 2022

Drawing of Stephen Sondheim signed by Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Maria Friedman, Dame Judy Dench, Petula Clark, Julia McKenzie, Michael Ball, Bernadette Peters, Sian Philips, Bonnie Langford, Janie Dee, Gary Wilmot, Clive Rowe, Charlie Stemp, Michael Xavier, Jon Robyns, Damien Lewis, Rob Brydon, Haydn Gwynn and Julian Ovenden, from the Stephen Sonheim Old Friends Tribute Concert, London

British producer and theatre impresario, Sir Cameron Mackintosh invited many of the late Stephen Sondheim’s old friends to join him in celebrating the great composer’s extraordinary talents and legacy at the West End theatre named after him. Considered one of the most influential figures in twentieth-century musical theatre, Stephen passed away at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut last November at the age of 91, before he was able to attend the official naming ceremony of the Shaftesbury Avenue theatre.

The tribute concert STEPHEN SONDHEIM’S OLD FRIENDS (from a number in 1981’s MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG) on 3 May, directed by Maria Friedman was also simulcast at the nearby Prince Edward Theatre, due to ticket demand. All proceeds went to the Stephen Sondheim Foundation. In his five star review for the Guardian, Mark Lawson wrote, “A glorious all-star memorial service… Stephen Sondheim was so vast a talent that London required two theatres to remember him… each of the (41) tunes a eulogy.”

While I wasn’t unable to get (or indeed fit) every artist, I did manage 19 from the glittering line-up, who respectfully signed around the pencil portrait of the great man; Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Maria Friedman, Dame Judy Dench, Petula Clark, Julia McKenzie, Michael Ball, Bernadette Peters, Sian Philips, Bonnie Langford, Janie Dee, Gary Wilmot, Clive Rowe, Charlie Stemp, Michael Xavier, Jon Robyns, Damien Lewis, Rob Brydon, Haydn Gwynn and Julian Ovenden.

Drawing: The Ladykillers starring Peter Capaldi, Ben Miller, Stephen Wright, Harry Peacock, James Fleet, Marcia Warren and Clive Rowe

the ladykillers001

Collecting siggies from large casts can be murder! The celebrated Ealing comedy The Ladykillers had seven cast members – not in itself a large number, and in fact to some a lucky numeral, but collecting their graphs could be no laughing matter. Waiting at the stage door after the show can prove a problem, because they may all come out at once (or they may all stay in for drinkies). And, unlike school children, lining up on command so you can collect their scribble one at a time isn’t usually in the thespians repertoire. It was best, I thought, to get them going in. Stupidly I chose the final week, so if you miss, it’s curtains.

A the penultimate Saturday matinee, I duly arrived at the Gielgud Theatre stage door at high noon. Like clockwork, each cast member arrived… individually, and gladly signed. Peter Capaldi, Ben Miller, Stephen Wright. I had actually got Harry Peacock earlier, passing the Comedy Theatre where his wife, Katherine Parkinson, was performing. I then discovered that I could get the ‘killers’, but the ‘Lady’ had already gone in. Bugger. But, James Fleet to the rescue, “If you trust me with your drawing I’ll take it in for her and return it.”

Great stuff. He returned promptly with Marcia Warren’s ‘graphed sketch. Oh, and one of the ‘killers’ had left the show due to illness. Clive Rowe was in my drawing but not in the house,  I eventually got his signature to complete the set at the Old Vic during the season of Kiss Me Kate, almost a year later!