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: Hand to God

Hand to God

Described as Sesame Street meets The Exorcist, the irreverent puppet comedy HAND OF GOD took Broadway by storm last year, earning five Tony Nominations, including Best New Play. Robert Askin’s irreligious, satanic hand puppet hit has now transferred to the West End and possessed the Vaudeville Theatre. The London website sums up the plot. One dead father. One messed up family. One girl who wants help. One school bully who always gets his own way. One out of control hand puppet. Recently widowed Margery (Janie Dee) with a penchant for rough sex is encouraged by the randy minister Pastor Greg (Neil Pearson) to run a Christian puppetry workshop-The Christketeers – to spread the gospel in Cypress,Texas. It’s members of which include her son Jason (Harry Melling), the strange girl next door, Jessica (Jemima Rooper) who Jason has a crush on and neighbourhood troublemaker Timmy (Kevin Mains). Enter Tyrone, Jason’s devil-doll that acquires a separate identity turning into a foul-mouthed, unruly sock puppet who believes he’s Satan and takes possession of Jason’s left hand.

“You want the Devil? I’ll give you The Devil”, as his polycotton head spins 360 degrees.

As you could imagine, an interesting collection of characters to meet at the stage door to get my sketch signed. The hand of God had a bit to do with it. This is the second drawing I did. The first succumbed to the elements. A week back,as I was sheltering under some historical edifice and sorting sketches for the impending stalk, a gust of wind transported a few of them into the only muddy puddle within London’s Square Mile. HAND TO GOD was one of them. This replacement was subjected to a few sprinkles on Saturday, as I waited at the Vaudeville. Thankfully the cast were much nicer than the weather and nothing like their stage personae. Harry even left Tyrone in the dressing room and signed with his non-possessed hand. God knows what Tyrone would do with a sharpie!

Drawing: Janie Dee in Noises Off at the Novello Theatre

janie dee

Janie Dee is the charming and versatile multi-award winning British actress, singer and musical theatre star. She won the three most prestigious awards in British Theatre, the Olivier, the Evening Standard and the Critic’s Circle Award for Best Actress in a Play. In addition, she has also collected the Obie and Theatre World Best Newcomer Award in New York for her legendary performance as Jacie Triplethree in Alan Ayckbourn’s Comic Potential, which was written especially for her. Janie also won the Oliver for Best Supporting Actress in a musical for her performance as Carrie Pipperidge in Nicholas Hytner’s acclaimed production of Rodger and Hammerstein’s Carousel at the National Theatre.

She signed a previous sketch I drew of the Noises Off cast at the Old Vic in late 2011. Due to popular demand it transferred to the Novello Theatre, where she signed this drawing. She remembered the previous sketch and was very complimentary, offering me free tickets to her cabaret show at the Hippodrome the following month.

Drawing: Noises Off, starring Jonathan Coy, Janie Dee, Robert Glenister, Jamie Glover, Celia Imrie, Karl Johnson, Aisling Loftus, Amy Nuttall and Paul Ready

noises off001

Large cast, Winter weather, exposed stage door (actually there are very few covered stage doors at London theatres) was the bad news. The good news was they were all good signers if you were good enough to meet them.

I required the nine cast members of Noises Off to sign my sketch at the Old Vic in January 2012. In alphabetical order – Jonathan Coy, Janie Dee, Robert Glenister, Jamie Glover, Celia Imrie, Karl Johnson, Aisling Loftus, Amy Nuttall and Paul Ready. In signing order – completely different. I consulted a few of the ‘zombies’ to figure out the exit and entry behaviour of the said nine – who arrives early, who pops out for a ciggy (and possibly siggy) breaks, who stays back after the shows making sure the Pit Bar makes a profit that week.

A single ‘hit’ visit looked unlikely. Once again I aimed for a Saturday matinée. Hopefully a staggered entrance over an hour wold enable me to get the majority of them. Some had already beaten me – drat – but luckily Robert required some lunch and was happy, as always, to sign.

Janie was also inside, but she was having a nap in preparation for the two performances ahead. It’s a physically demanding show, so I could understand her reasons but that didn’t help my mission. An hour out from curtain and I had all but Celia (who had gone in through the front door to sort some tickets out for friends, so I was told) and Janie. The following Tuesday I collected the duo coming out on my way home from a ‘stalking’ raid in the West End. A successful ‘play’ in two acts!