Putting It Together was the product of collaboration between Stephen Sondheim and Julia McKenzie (yes, the same one from Cranford off the telly). McKenzie, as those with the showtune gene know, is a bit of a Sondheim aficionado, and while Angela Landsbury and Bernadette Peters squabble over the juicy female roles on Broadway, McKenzie has already pegged up Company, Side By Side, Follies, Into The Woods and Sweeney Todd in the West End. It was McKenzie who also directed the original Broadway production of Putting It Together in 1993, but it is surely the 1998 revival that most will remember, not least because Carol Burnett's outstanding performance was recorded on DVD for us to enjoy on this side of the pond.
Putting It Together is a musical revue, cleverly interwoven into a cocktail party where two couples and a waiter explore their relationships, sexual desires and rivalries. Theres not much of a plot - and there was never really meant to be much of one anyway - but the subtle interplay between these party guests allows for some surprisingly complex characters to be drawn. Quite an achievement bearing in mind these are songs pulled from other shows and no real dialog added to create a new story.
Personally I've seen three live productions of Putting It Together - two in Edinburgh - and this has to be the best. The most polished, the most professional and simply the most insightful of McKenzie & Sondheim's book. Seriously, there were times here when Gayle Telfer-Stevens in the role of Woman One rivalled even Burnett's defining performance. She was suitably acerbic for Ladies Who Lunch and nailed comic brilliance in Getting Married Today. Telfer-Stevens is not only a terrific singer, but also an accomplished actor and that's what lifts this production above the white-noise of Edinburgh. All of the cast delivered convincingly, under the expert guidance of director John Naples-Campbell, who clearly is as much a fan of Sondheim's work as I am.
It I had any criticism, it would be that cuts have been made to the song list; but that's an unavoidable consequence of turning a two-act show into a Fringe-friendly timeslot. But I would have quite happily sat there for two hours if they'd let me.
This was the first night performance - and they are already selling out. Once word gets out about what a feast this is for Sondheim fans, you may just have to settle with pressing your ear against the door at Augustine's to get a sniff of this Edinburgh treat.