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Review Roundup: Ruthie Henshall Stars in Stephen Sondheim's PASSION at Hope Mill Theatre

Sondheim's Passion is a legendary musical based on Ettore Scola’s Italian film, Passion d’Amore.

Read the reviews for Stephen Sondheim's Passion at the Hope Mill Theatre. Sondheim's Passion is a legendary musical based on Ettore Scola's Italian film, Passion d'Amore, starring Ruthie Henshall in the role of Fosca.

Situated in 19th Century Italy, the production tells the tale of a young soldier, Giorgio (Dean John-Wilson), who is obsessively pursued by the relation of his superior officer, Fosca (Ruthie Henshall) - a woman prone to severe melancholy and mania. Strassen's modern retelling of the tale, with movement direction by Sundeep Saini (As You Like It, Little Shop of Horrors), puts Fosca front and centre, finding the real heart and truth within the piece.

The cast is completed by Adam Robert Lewis (The Phantom of the Opera, Her Majesty's Theatre), Charlie Waddell (South Pacific, Chichester Festival Theatre), Danny Whitehead (Wicked, UK tour), Juan Jackson, Ray Shell (Starlight Express, The Lion King), Steve Watts (As You Like It, Cheek by Jowl), and Tim Walton (Matilda The Musical, RSC). They join the Olivier Award winner and musical theatre icon Ruthie Henshall (Les Miserables; Chicago; Billy Elliot; I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!).

Directed by Sondheim specialist Michael Strassen (Pacific Overtures; Company; Assassins), with movement direction by Sundeep Saini (As You Like It, Little Shop of Horrors) and musical direction by Yshani Perinpanayagam (LMTO), this encapsulating revival will reenergise the tale of love, sex and obsession.

Mark Fisher, The Guardian: In her prim white dress and hair in a bun, Henshall is all stiff gestures and manic glares, a woman too constrained by her own body to express the broiling emotions within. By contrast, Price is fluid and sensual, moving freely with her instincts. They give forceful performances, even if the male-centric musical caricatures them as women helplessly governed by their own wayward natures. It argues that Giorgio's fractious relationship with Fosca is ultimately more rewarding than his carefree affair with the married Clara. That is a sophisticated idea for a Broadway show, but in making the point, it pushes Fosca to hysterical extremes and makes Clara seem shallow. Caught in the middle, Giorgio can do no wrong. Melodrama aside, the singing is excellent and the off-stage band bright and strident, creating a suitably impassioned show.

Francesa Peschier, The Stage: The production values are high and cast stellar. Dean John-Wilson is pure matinee-idol goodness, torn between two women and his morals. Henshall is as good as you would expect from an artist of her calibre, and there is serious talent in the all-male soldier chorus. Danny Whitehead's subtle vulnerability and Juan Jackson's swaggering turn as Count Ludovic are highlights. Yet, despite this and Strassen's well-paced and fluid direction, the emotion is overwrought and the characters without complexity.

Clive Davis, The Times: A matter of days after that unforgettable gala celebration of Stephen Sondheim in the West End, along comes a revival which, for all its virtues, demonstrates why sceptics find the composer hard to love. There's nothing wrong with Michael Strassen's gossamer production: Ruthie Henshall does herself justice in an unsympathetic role and the scaled-down arrangements for just five musicians are a fine match for such an intimate venue.

Chris Omaweng, LondonTheatre1: "One may not come away humming the melody to an all-singing, all-dancing jazz hands number, but Passion doesn't try to be anything other than a story about the power of love, whatever 'power' and 'love' may mean. It gets a tad too melodramatic for my liking on occasion but otherwise, it's an intriguing and fiery production. A five-piece band led by Yshani Perinpanayagam is occasionally dissonant, but this seems deliberately so, adding to the torment and heartache of the show's characters."

Jess Dalloway, West End Best Friend: For a musical named Passion, the cast and creatives of the production have certainly used their own passion for live theatre to create such an emotional yet haunting rendition of a classic Sondheim and Lapine musical. The company have truly done the late great Sondheim and his romantic score justice with this monumentally thrilling performance. Not a show to be missed, head on down to the Hope Mill Theatre to see Passion before its limited run ends.

Craig McDonald, I Love Manchester: Being a Sondheim production, the big draw of course will always be the musical numbers, and they are delivered with gusto by all, bar none. Pitch-perfect and powerful throughout, you are left with no doubt that each and every cast member is a seasoned pro, with the pipes to match their immense experience in the musical genre. Accompanied by an accomplished band under the musical direction of Yshani Perinpanayagam, the musical numbers are fantastically orchestrated and are a treat for the ears throughout as they ring resoundingly throughout the tight confines of the Hope Mill Theatre.

Jordan Lloyd Beck, Pocket Size Theatre: Passion marks a return to musical theatre for the actress and she does not disappoint. Ruthie proves that she can tackle anything and - although it was at first a little jarring to see a performer used to the calibre of the Royal Albert Hall or the London Palladium - she captures the space perfectly. A personal highlight included her big opening number 'I Read', in which her character fiercely dreams of a different life. When it comes to Ruthie, you can take the girl out of the West End but you can't take the West End out of the girl.

Jenny Daniel, Theatre Reviews North: Henshall's performance is a masterclass. Her simmering alto and soaring soprano convey the covered emotion and the wild hysteria bursting forth. We feel her passion and her pain. Kelly Price as Clara is an admirable foil, and Dean John-Wilson's Giorgio is torn between them with dramatic realism.

Nigel Smith, Musical Theatre Review: It is the quality of the singing that really distinguishes this production. Whilst the show is headlined by the legendary Ruthie Henshall in the role of Fosca, as we have come to expect from Hope Mill Theatre she is surrounded by a splendidly assembled cast. Kelly Price and Dean John-Wilson are outstanding as Clara and Giorgio, but there are great performances from the ensemble too, with particular note going to Danny Whitehead, Charlie Waddell and Juan Jackson, who add to their principal roles by acting out other characters' past actions as described in letters, in a sort of choreographed pantomime.

James Mac, The Reviews Hub: Michael Strassen's direction is off the wall, with bold choices throughout, making this production feel as full-bodied as the wine being sipped by the buzzing press night audience at the bar during the interval. His understanding of Sondheim's work is prevalent as he orchestrates this piece to not only work excellently in this venue, but simultaneously allowing his star cast to shine in their own unique ways, playing to their strengths and constantly moving the narrative. The piece is extremely well cast, blending a somehow contemporary feel into classic musical melodrama through its diverse ensemble of players in their deliciously contrasting roles. Yshani Perinpanayagam's musical direction allows the all-male Soldier chorus to thrill and soar through the small venue, creating an epic and rich sound.

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