Saturday, November 25, 2017

FOLLIES – London 2017: A Theatre Review

The Plot: A decaying Broadway theater is the place set for a reunion of past performers of the “Weismann’s Follies” that played there in the golden days. Among them there’s Sally and Phyllis, two chorus girls, and their husbands. Both couples are unhappy and Sally hopes to regain the love of Ben, with whom she had an affair in the past and who is now married to Phyllis.

The Show: “I had a dream, a wonderful dream” that one day I would finally see a production of FOLLIES. It wasn’t exactly a dream, but I always said that one day I would see this show on stage and it would be in London at the National Theatre. You can imagine my surprise when I heard the news that the National was planning to put it on stage. That was reason more than enough for me to visit London and as soon as the tickets were on sale, I booked mine.

FOLLIES is one my top four musical scores (the others are CHICAGO, MACK AND MABEL and GYPSY) and I can hardly express what I felt when the show began, with the ghosts moving around the ruined stage and the live characters start appearing. Then, as always, Roscoe “brings on the Weismann girls” and I felt shivers up and down my spine. This was much more than I expected and my hopes roused high.

The set design by Vicki Mortimer is beautiful and director Dominic Cooke took full advantage of it, both giving a ghostly quality to the entire production. I loved the way the characters moved around the set, giving it life and grabbing our attention from several different spots at the same time (although, sometimes, it becomes a little confusing).

Besides the opening, the other big moment that made my spirit rise was when Dawn Hope leads the ladies in “Who’s That Woman?” and the entire stage shines with life and joy. In the “Loveland” sequence the four leading actors, Imelda Staunton, Janie Dee, Peter Forbes and Philip Quast all excel in their numbers: Staunton is heartbreaking with “Losing My Mind”, Dee gets deliciously loose with “The Story of Lucy and Jessie”, Forbes has fun and is funny with “The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me Blues” and Quast goes from a stout man to a rag with “Live, Laugh, Love”. As they younger selves, Alex Young, Zizi Strallen, Fred Haig and Adam Rhys-Charles have their big time with “You're Gonna Love Tomorrow” and “Love Will See Us Through”.

The most emotional moments of the evening are when Josephine Barstow duets with her younger self, Alison Langer, in “One More Kiss” and when Imelda Staunton delivers “In Buddy’s Eyes”. Tracie Bennett becomes very personal with “I’m Still Here” (my favorite song of the score), Di Botcher sounds like a true “Broadway Baby”, Geraldine Fitzgerald gives us a sensuality funny “Ah, Paris!” and Billy Boyle and Norma Atallah are delicious with “Rain on the Roof”.

To be able to see this legendary musical live on stage and to hear the cast giving life to its amazing score was an unforgettable experience, even if it wasn’t as great as I hoped it would be. But it’s not every day that we see a dream come true and I feel truly blessed to fulfill mine!

Cast: Imelda Staunton, Janie Dee, Peter Forbes, Philip Quast, Alex Young, Zizi Strallen, Fred Haig, Adam Rhys-Charles, Tracie Bennett, Dawn Hope, Josephine Barstow, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Di Botcher, Bruce Graham, Billy Boyle, Norma Atallah, Alison Langer, Gary Raymond

Creative Team: Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim • Book by James Goldman • Choreography by Bill Deamer • Directed by Dominic Cooke
My Rate: 9 (from 1 to 10) / Photos: Johan Persson and Tristram Kenton

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