The Girls (and Boys) of Summer
On 13 July, Pat and David Oldcorn once again threw open the doors – and the garden gates – of their lovely riverside home in Windsor for the Society’s summer Garden Party. Craig Glenday reports back.
It was another fine Sunday of wine, women (and men) and song as the Oldcorns hosted another Garden Party at their spectacular clock tower home by the Thames in Windsor. As a Central London flat-dweller, I always relish the chance to visit the Oldcorns and take in the greenery and scenery, and once again it was a real musical and epicurean treat.
The Stephen Sondheim Society Garden Party was first held back in 1999, when David (our Treasurer) and his wife Pat took advantage of members being in the Southeast for the group visit to the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. (Took advantage in a good way, of course!) To this day, the summer party – not held annually, and not always at the Oldcorns – tends to coincide with a Society visit in London, and this time, it slotted in nicely after the final night of God at the London Theatre Workshop.
So, with a Bacchus-like hangover from the after-show party, I along with about 60 others headed to Windsor on a lovely summer afternoon. There, we were welcomed by our gracious hosts, a glass of Bucks Fizz and a garden – in the words of David Lardi – the “length of the M6”. As well as a seemingly endless supply of wine and a delicious buffet, we were also treated to what must surely be the longest concert yet staged at the Garden Party.
In recent years, David, a keen supporter of the Royal Academy of Music, has been hunting down some of the newly graduated talent from the Academy’s Post Graduate Musical Theatre course to perform at the Garden Party, and this year he bagged a fine selection of performers for us to enjoy along with our lunch. Many thanks are due to Amie Miller, Lara de Belder, Simon Ward, Jamie Blake and Matthew Willis for sparing their time to sing for us.
David also introduced a guest singer, namely the established actress and singer Zoë Ann Bown, and an after-lunch speaker in the shape of casting director – and partner of Zoë – Richard Evans. Providing the keyboard accompaniment was Trustee Peter Auker and pianist Joe Robinson.
The concert opened with a Whistle–Night Music sandwich: Amie kicked off with “Everybody Says Don’t” followed by a filling of “Later” from Matthew, with Lara completing the sandwich with the title song “Anyone Can Whistle”. Lara remains in the spotlight as she next provided the bait for Simon’s salacious “Hello Little Girl” from Into the Woods, which drew a few saucy “oohs” from the singer’s female admirers. Zoë then delighted us with “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” from Sweeney – admitting that her memory of being at Johanna’s age was a “distant one” – and Jamie followed this with the beautiful “I Remember” from Evening Primrose.
Amie returned with a fulsome version of “The Miller’s Son” (Night Music), followed by Simon’s “Good Thing Going” (Merrily) and a couple of classics from Sweeney Todd: “By The Sea” from Lara and a soaring “Not While I’m Around” from Matthew. Closing the first half was “In Praise of Women” (Night Music) from Simon – who seemed born to sing the role of Count Malcolm! – and a suitably knowing “Broadway Baby” from Zoë.
After the interval, which mostly involved wolfing down some delicious desserts and sinking more wine, it was the turn of Richard Evans to take the microphone – not to sing, but to discuss the life and adventures of a casting director. Richard, who began his career as an actor but has spent the last 25 years hiring thesps, was fresh from a speaking engagement on a West-End-themed cruise where, incidentally, he’d met the Oldcorns.
After the chat came more song, starting with “Pretty Women” (Sweeney) by Simon and Jamie and “Finishing the Hat” (Sunday) by Sydney Conservatorium alumni Matthew, who belted out the song with no hint of his Australian accent, I’m pleased to say. The classic Sondheims kept coming: “Finishing the Hat” (Sunday) and “Johanna” (Sweeney) from Matthew, who also successfully tackled the more challenging “If You Can Find Me I’m Here” (Primrose); Zoë channelled all of her acting experience in a tender “Send in the Clowns” (Night Music) and a rather sozzled “The Ladies Who Lunch” (Company); and Amie mellowed everyone with “Not A Day Goes By” (Merrily).
It was also interesting to hear the rarely performed “Christmas Island at Christmas Time”, a quirky calypso with music by Mary Rodgers and lyrics by Sondheim. “Neither of us can remember exactly why we wrote it,” noted Steve in Look, I Made a Hat. Well, whatever the reason, it has survived since its composition in 1951 and here was delivered practically gift-wrapped by a very hip-swinging Simon. Finally, Jamie – with the help of Amie and Lara – took up half the garden to perform a highly choreographed one-boy-two-girl version of “Buddy’s Blues” (Follies), recreating the manic version he wowed audiences with at the RAM Musical Theatre Showcase back in April.
But the singing wasn’t over quite yet. While we’re all used to the tradition of torturing “Sunday” – with words amended for the Garden Party (mea culpa, Mr Sondheim!) – we had the added “bonus” this year of a group rendition of “Brush Up Your Sondheim”, itself a reworking (by David Simpson and Tony Bogod) of Cole Porter’s “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” from Kiss Me Kate. Suffice it to say that when it comes to competition for singing roles, this latest crop of RAM graduates have nothing to fear from our Society members!
It was, as ever, a very agreeable and thoroughly entertaining afternoon. Looking back over my report from last year’s party, I appear to have been a little aggrieved then by my lack of success with the raffle; no such problem this year, as my numbers were repeatedly drawn. No fix, I assure you, although as one of your gracious, magnanimous Trustees I of course opted to have the numbers redrawn. It was reward enough getting to spend the day in such good company.