Q&A: Company star Matthew Seadon-Young on "Where Oscar Meets Stephen..."
Matthew Seadon-Young (pictured left), currently appearing as Bobbie's boyfriend Theo in Company alongside Rosalie Craig, will be joined by brother David (right, known to Sondheim fans as Leon Czolgosz in Jamie Lloyd's incredible production of Assassins at the Menier) and Conor Sheridan (centre) for an evening of Sondheim and Hammerstein at LIVE AT ZÉDEL, aka The Crazy Coqs, on Sunday 3rd March at 7 pm.
Where Oscar Meets Stephen... is, according to Matthew, an "intimate evening of stories and music from the archive of Oscar Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim... This especially devised evening charts a simple journey through their music and lyrics alongside the melodies of Richard Rodgers, combining their music, while acknowledging the legacy Hammerstein passed to Sondheim."
In anticipation of this evening of cabaret, which will feature guest appearances from some West End regulars, Matthew spoke to The Stephen Sondheim Society about what to expect, and also about the joys of working with MD Gareth Valentine, and the challenges of working with Sondheim's material.
To book, visit Live at Zédel – tickets are £18.50 plus booking fee.
Tell us about the concept for this cabaret – why Hammerstein and Sondheim?
I think it's fair to say Hammerstein and Sondheim are two of the most prolific writers in musical theatre. But there's a lot of people that don't necessarily know much about the connection and personal relationship between the two composers. It runs much deeper than just their careers in composing and writing.
The concept is quite simple – a timeline tracking their personal story and how Oscar Hammerstein influenced a young Stephen, and how, as a result, Sondheim became the Sondheim we know and love today.
What influenced your choice of material? Both were quite prolific...
There are some real classics from both composers – their most important works that revolutionised contemporary musical theatre. Their most beautiful, haunting, inspiring pieces. And even some of their darker material. They have such a rich tapestry of music and lyrics, we were able to source material that suited their personal timeline as friends and highlight particular moments in their careers and relationship. You'll find a couple of curve balls in there though, to keep you on your toes.
You have some special guests – who will be joining you?
We certainly do! We have the wonderful Carly Bawden (Assassins/Romantics Anonymous), the gorgeous Laura Pitt Pulford (Little Miss Sunshine/Side Show), the brilliant George Blagden (Company/Versailles/Pitchfork Disney) and the astonishing Ako Mitchell (Caroline or Change/Spelling Bee/Ragtime).
How it is working with the legend that is Gareth Valentine? What has working with him taught you?
Gareth is a freakin' hoot and jumped on board with our project so quickly and enthusiastically. He was our first choice to MD Where Oscar Meets Stephen... so we were so thrilled when he joined us. He is a fountain of knowledge and has the best collection of anecdotes in the business. He's kept me on my toes, he works so efficiently and effectively. The devil really is in the details with Gareth.
How different is it performing Sondheim compared with other musical-theatre writers/composers?
Musically, he's so rewarding to sing. The blood, sweat and tears that go into learning his music is such that when it finally clicks, it's a great moment. Lyrically, it's absurdly fun to sing. It can be equally heartbreaking too. He has such nuance and detail, and not one word or syllable is there just for the sake of it. He's so beautifully articulate and with just a few words he can reflect a wealth of emotion with only a short sentence.
One of my favourite of his lyrics, for instance, is "You're always sorry, you're always grateful." I mean, how simple are those words? Yet they articulate the emotional dilemma of marriage so perfectly. Brilliant.
What I find about a lot of contemporary works these days, is it's not nearly as subtly rich as Sondheim's work. Now, this isn't necessarily all new work (there really is some fantastic stuff out there) but I've found with a lot of material these days that you really have to work hard to get the material working emotionally and invent all sorts of thought processes to make it feel coherent and help it make sense, whereas Sondheim's words and music will do a lot of the work for you.
It may sound like I'm being lazy – ha! – but when that work is done for you, which it always is with Sondheim, it's far easier to open yourself up and liberate yourself as an actor. It's that saying: "behind every good actor is a good writer". Good actors with a bad script are screwed! Is that a saying? Or have I just made that up?!
What personal experience have you both had with Sondheim? You must've met him a few times now?
I've been lucky enough to perform for Sondheim on a number of occasions, as has my brother, David – he was in Jamie Lloyd's outstanding production of Assassins. It never gets easier on the nerves, I tell you! He has a remarkable mind. He sat in on our dress rehearsal and noted the whole show from memory. No notebook to jog his memory. Nothing. Just hundreds of notes he made throughout the dress run all up in his head. Phenomenal.
What's been your experience of Company? Your new version of "Drive a Person Crazy" is one of the highlights of the show. How challenging was it learning those close harmonies?
You know, not as challenging as it could have been if we didn't have the brilliant Joel Fram as our Musical Director. He was so patient with us. He arranged the vocal harmonies himself – so good! – so it was a fun and relaxed creative process. We actually learnt our individual lines in separate rooms for the first couple of music calls and didn't sing it together until later. But boy, oh, boy, when we did! Just amazing. When we first sang it to the rest of the cast a few weeks later, the reaction was electric!
It sums up the whole experience, actually - electric. The cast are all terrific people and I'll be incredibly sad to say goodbye to them all.
Do you have a favourite Sondheim song? And a Hammerstein song?
So many to choose from. But my favourite Sondheim song is the one that really got me hooked on musicals for good, and that's "I Remember" from Evening Primrose. It really shows what a remarkable imagination he has. What beautiful, beautiful imagery in that song.
My Hammerstein song has to be "You'll Never Walk Alone". Humbling words of resilience. So moving. He must have been so wise, such an amazing role model for someone like Stephen Sondheim.
Join Matt and co at Live at Zédel on Sunday 3rd March at 7pm. Tickets are £18.50 plus booking fee.