Photos – Jeff Busby
Follies has always had a troubled history going back to its infamous and costly first production on Broadway in 1971. The storyline is not upbeat, revolving around a small group of ex-showgirls, now well past their prime. The music, however, has always been what people remember and want to hear, so it's little wonder that concert versions have proved popular around the world, and kept this gem of a show alive.
Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and James Goldman (book), after many drafts, arrived at a beautiful story of a group of ageing performers who gather for a one-off reunion, 30 years after they last performed together. The reunion is at an abondoned theatre they once graced, and which is about to be demolished. The metaphor about glorifying the past and regretting the choices made long ago is displayed throughout the story in a loving/sad tribute to an era and youthful times that will forever be but a memory.
Sondheim and Goldman, under the guidance of their original director Harold Prince, cleverly crafted a storyline where the ghosts of the past and their younger selves constantly converge on the present day personas.
Songs such as Beautiful Girls and Waiting for the Girls Upstairs set the scene for the past, while Broadway Baby and I'm Still Here illustrate the realities of a life in showbusiness (Debra Byrne as Carlotta sings this number almost as an anthem to her own career and claims it as her own).
In a sea of great tunes, Could I Leave You? and Losing My Mind probably best capture the skill of one of our finest musical theatre songwriters. Not just clever lyrics, but insightful, deep and filled with humour and bite.
Director Tyran Parke has assembled a fine cast of seasoned professionals and staged this production well, within the confines of a limited rehearsal period and a concert stage. His decision to allow actors to perform with scripts in hand, detracts somewhat from the visual experience, but this is a minor flaw.
David Hobson, Lisa McCune, Philip Quast and Anne Wood all glow in the opportunities given to them as the leading couples, while Debra Byrne, Robert Grubb, David Rogers-Smith, Queenie van de Zandt (hilarious in her big number Who's That Woman) and the legend that is Nancye Hayes lend their considerable talents to the proceedings.
Mention must also be made of Lachlan Graham, Sophie Wright, Rowan Witt and Jenni Little who play the younger Ben, Sally, Buddy and Phyllis respectively.
An orchestra of over twenty musicians on stage, led by Stephen Gray is an added bonus.
Some minor sound issues will hopefully be erased during the remaining performances, but this is another small distraction.
Storeyboard Entertainment must be congratulated in managing to produce this star-studded concert version, especially when other producers are flooding the market with more commercial product and far less substance. It's a shame that the season is so short, as the sheer mastery of Follies still shines and should be experienced by anyone who loves musical theatre.
Storeyboard Entertainment presents
FOLLIES IN CONCERT
book by James Goldman | music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Venue: Melbourne Recital Centre | Southbank Boulevard, Southbank, Melbourne
Dates: 24 – 25 May, 2016
Tickets: $89.90 - $159.90