Chance to enjoy again Chichester's Celebrating Sondheim concert

Jenna Russell at Chichester Festival TheatreJenna Russell at Chichester Festival Theatre
Jenna Russell at Chichester Festival Theatre
With the future looking so much brighter, Chichester Festival Theatre returns to one of the few bright spots of 2020 with a repeat streaming of their Celebrating Sondheim concert.

It will be available on demand from 7pm on March 22 until 11.59pm on March 25.

It was first streamed last year to mark Sondheim’s 90th birthday. This encore streaming is now broadcast to mark the composer’s 91st birthday. The show saw CFT artistic director Daniel Evans joined on the Festival Theatre stage by West End stars Gabrielle Brooks, Clive Rowe, Hannah Waddingham and Jenna Russell to perform numbers from some of Sondheim’s major and lesser-known works.

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For Jenna, it was a chance to renew her long and happy association with Daniel. She appeared opposite Daniel in Sunday in the Park with George in London and on Broadway, for which they both won Olivier Awards and were nominated for Tonys.

“Dan worked with my partner Ray Coulthard at the National Theatre, and I had seen Dan in things. I had always loved watching Dan as an actor. We became friends through my other half and we ended up working together in Sunday in the Park with George. That was 14 years ago. The piece was great and the directing was great, and the director had a really brilliant idea of how to put it on stage and Dan was just so beautiful in it. He is such a beautiful actor. It was like a masterclass of simplicity and honesty. I always say to him that he is like clear water. You can see the thoughts passing through his mind.”

So it was great to work with him again last year – a grim year for everyone: “It has been tricky. Working as a theatre actress primarily, it has been awful, just awful and heart-breaking and there were jobs that I was so looking forward to that might never happen. As a woman who is 53, I am aware that I don’t have that many years left in the business to enjoy it all. It’s the reality. Hopefully things are getting slightly better in that respect, but as you get older, the roles in Shakespeare for a woman, for instance, just disappear. And I am just aware of my age and am conscious of an empty year that has gone by. And my savings for my pension have just gone.

“But on the other hand, I have got a 12-year-old daughter and whilst it has been hard for her not to go to school, she has just been amazing.”

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This past year, March to March, Jenna was due to be in Hello Dolly: “And if I had actually done that, then I wouldn’t have been putting my daughter to bed every night.” Jenna has no idea whether Hello Dolly will happen now: “I hope so, but it’s whether I will still be able to play the role in maybe two or three years when I won’t be 50 anymore, I will be 55.

“But being with my daughter has been a big positive. And we have not lost anybody close to us and we have remained healthy. But certainly in terms of my career and our income as a family, it has been devastating. I am a very positive person, but I have had a couple of moments when I have just sat and thought ‘Oh my God, this is all just slipping away…’

“But I do think people will come back. There is an appetite for live theatre. The lovely thing about the Sondheim was that we were able to do it (last year) in front of a live audience, which was glorious. I have done a couple of things without an audience, and it has been great, but you just really miss that vital last ingredient, the audience. The audience are the reason I do theatre. It is all about taking people on a journey and telling them brilliant stories and changing people’s perceptions and enlightening people to other people’s points of view… and streaming can never come close to that. It is something in our DNA as human beings that we sit around camp fires telling stories and wanting to excite each other with tales.”