Friday, November 17, 2017

'Follies' by Stephen Sondheim

17 November 2017

Stephen Sondheim’s 1971 musical ‘Follies’ is rarely performed, largely because it requires an enormous cast. Laurie Sansom’s splendid 2006 production at the Northampton Royal & Derngate (reviewed here in November 2006) cast local amateurs as the ageing Follies girls, with a professional cast playing the leads and the ‘ghosts’ of their younger selves. Dominic Cooke’s new production at the National Theatre (which we saw as a NTLive broadcast at the Odeon at Milton Keynes Stadium on Thursday) uses a cast of 37, plus a 21-strong orchestra. It’s a stunning production with Vicki Mortimer’s massive set showing the crumbling carcass of a condemned theatre constantly rotating on the huge stage of the Olivier. ‘Follies’ is a bitter-sweet show, full of set-piece songs in which the older women each reprise the hits of their youth. Sondheim’s songs are pastiches of the style of those early 20th century Follies shows, but with more knowing poignancy. Dominic Cooke’s production is of the highest quality with great music and dancing. The singing, in particular, is excellent – from the operatic contributions of Josephine Barstow and Bruce Graham, to musical standards by Di Botcher (‘Broadway Baby’) and Tracie Bennett (‘I’m Still Here’), to brilliant song and dance numbers by Dawn Hope (‘Who’s That Woman? (Mirror Mirror)’) and the wonderful Janie Dee (‘The story of Lucy and Jessie’). And it felt impossible not to cry at Imelda Staunton’s heartbreakingly beautiful performance of ‘Losing My Mind’ – the melancholic climax of the evening. The nature of the show, with its roll call of solos by each of the characters, invites audience adulation throughout and the reaction of the audience at the National Theatre on Thursday seemed to grow more exuberant with each number. It’s always a slightly-detached experience sitting in a cinema watching the relay of a live show, but on this occasion the final curtain prompted spontaneous applause from everyone at the Odeon Milton Keynes – and, on screen in the Olivier auditorium, the audience were all on their feet for the most enthusiastic standing ovation I have seen for years. This was a brilliant production of ‘Follies’ and it is amazing for it to be playing in London at the same time as Christopher Wheeldon’s production of ‘An American in Paris’ (reviewed here in April 2017) and Mark Bramble’s production of ‘42nd Street’ (reviewed here in August 2017). All three could make a strong case for being the best musical you will ever see: we are so lucky to have seen them all this year.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home