Brighton Fringe

REVIEW: ‘Summoning Sondheim’ at Bar Broadway (Brighton Fringe)

Brian Butler May 27, 2024

Grace O’ Keefe and I have something in common. We both wrote to the musical theatre giant Stephen Sondheim – and we both got replies.

But Grace, along with Jordana Belaiche, decided to put that incident at the heart of their hour-long tongue-in-cheek tribute to the late maestro.

Feeling his loss as we all do, they decided to summon him back via a seance. And it just so happens that West End star Jordana knows the very person.

Scurrying off stage she quickly reappears as Chanelle Marie, a clairvoyant, with a high-pitched irritating voice and where every other word is “ok?”.

Try as she might, and with audience participation, she fails totally – managing however to summon a Demi-God of MT, Lin Manuel Miranda instead. But he’s quickly sent packing.

In between narration about Sondheim and his shows, we get snatches of his songs, parodies of them and a full-on rendition of Broadway Baby.

Grace has the stronger voice and personality, but Jordana corners the comic wit. The chemistry between them is brilliantly timed, not missing a laugh, or an obscure reference to Sondheim’s lyrics – it really helps if you know his works backwards- and the audience clearly did. 

In the end it’s clear that these two aspiring writers don’t need the presence of the great man to inspire them – they can create their own art, to quote SS, and “they are not alone”.

Most touching moment is the playback of a Sondheim interview, where he’s asked if he regrets not having children. 

His reply? “Art is the other way of having children.” And to prove it they sing his wonderful song Children And Art. 

Wow what an evening – the show is still under development en route for Edinburgh Fringe, and they can tighten it slightly, not talking over each other and being more aware where bits of improv start and finish – but these are little things.  

I predict this show will be knocking the socks off audiences for some time to come.

Summoning Sondheim was part of Brighton Fringe at Bar Broadway.