Follies kicks off the tenth season of The Production Company shows at the Arts Centre. Originally conceived as a series of stage musicals in concert, they have delivered so much more. These sensational shows that burst forth from such short rehearsal periods are a credit to all concerned.
Over the last decade The Production Company have presented the cream of Australian Music Theatre talent including Caroline O’Connor, David Campbell, Marina Prior and Mitchell Butel. But never in The Production Company history has there been such a star-studded lineup as with Follies. Stephen Sondheim’s Follies cleverly combines a heart-breaking narrative, which is nostalgically encased within a lavish revue. All of which creates a wonderful homage to the glamorous and elaborate vaudeville shows of the Ziegfeld era.
When two Follies stars and their husbands reconnect at a Weismann Theatre reunion, the theatre seems haunted with memories and ghosts of past infidelities. The inventive libretto by James Goldman includes young versions of the characters in scenes as a flashback or shared memory. Director Roger Hodgman weaves these 'past and present' characters into the same space, creating a wonderful intimacy which leads to confronting results. In Loveland, Sondheim brilliantly writes lyrics that contradict the dreamy and overwhelming optimistic themes of the music. And this score contains some of his greatest showstoppers.
One of the main strengths of this production is the casting. The four leads are at the top of their game.
As Buddy Plummer, Philip Gould is sharp and stylish as the song and dance man. Outstanding as both a balladeer and vaudevillian clown, Gould proves yet again that he is one of the most versatile actors in the country. Debra Byrne makes the most of her giddy and troubled Sally Durant Plummer, rejected by her true love. Her journey from the idealistic In Buddy’s Eyes contrasts beautifully with the tragic anguish of Losing My Mind.
John Diedrich convinces as the charming, yet disillusioned Benjamin Stone. His unravelling in Live, Laugh, Love is effectively disconcerting. Playing Ben’s embittered wife Phyllis, Anne Wood chews up the scenery without batting an eyelid and relishes every opportunity to taunt anyone within reach. Her predatory circling and goading Ben in the caustic Could I Leave You is defiantly vehement.
As reminiscing guests at the reunion the other Follies stars each get their chance in the spotlight. Melissa Langton joyfully leads an entertaining and playful Who’s That Woman with appealing zest. Judi Connelli shines in a gutsy and determined performance of I’m Still Here. And Nancye Hayes steals the show singing Broadway Baby. Every nuance and cheeky gesture Hayes makes is deliciously brazen and mischievous.
Charles 'Bud' Tingwell is delightful as the proud, yet unsentimental theatre owner Dimitri Weissman ready to move on to his next challenge.
Designer Richard Jeziorny uses a staircase over the orchestra to great effect and his decrepit theatre and sparse stage dressings in the first Act are transformed into an appealing and cheerful setting for the later Loveland sequence.
Orchestra Victoria under the baton of Musical Director Guy Simpson were impressively tight and the dynamics were well balanced with the singing. Guy was included in the action of the play to great effect.
Follies is not often produced, so take this rare chance to catch this excellent revival, only playing until Sunday.
The Production Company presents
Book by James Goldman | Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Venue: State Theatre
Dates: 16 – 20 July 2008
Times: Wednesday – Saturday at 7.30 pm;
Matinees: Saturday at 2.00 pm; Sunday at 3.00 pm
Tickets: $38 - $79
Bookings: Ticketmaster 1300 136 166