“Follies” by Good Companions Stage Society
Set at a 30-years-on reunion of vaudeville singers and dancers from a New York theatre that closed in 1941, the show moves between the time periods with the 1971 characters and younger versions of their characters.
It begins with a reunion of showgirls who were once members of Broadway's glamorous Weismann Follies. They meet in a crumbling theatre that will soon be demolished to make way for a parking lot,and recall past glories but also look at dreams they once cherished. And as always when memories are delved into, old wounds can be re opened, and are, and ghosts unearthed.
We follow two couples, Ben and Phyllis Stone (Davron Hicks and Yvonne Taylor) and Buddy and Sally Plummer (Steve Foster and Hilary Leam).
Sally has never really got over her love for Ben and while she starts off nervous about meeting up with Ben again, by the end her feelings have turned in the other direction and shows a more angry side which is depicted clearly with her version of the beautifully poetic “Losing My Mind”, the most well-known song from this musical. She comes to the conclusion that the time she had waited and dreamt about Ben were wasted years.
This basically is the plot which is spread over two and a half hours.
For every Lloyd-Webber "Joseph", "Evita" or "Phantom", there's an "Aspects Of Love".
With Sondheim, for every "West Side Story", "Sweeney Todd" or "Into the Woods" there's a "Follies". For me the "Emperor's New Clothes" of the musical world.
I'm sorry I just do not see the greatness in this musical. If I hadn't had read up about the musical, I would have been a rather confused viewer as most of the main characters also had a younger version of their character. Even being aware of this, the storyline didn't make this clear, which I overheard several audience members comment on.
Salesman Buddy is unfaithful but loves Sally. Ben, the old flame and former politician also recognises his wasted life and has a breakdown. Phyllis is sophisticated but hides her misery behind her wise cracking.
There's some really good stuff in here though, so please don't shoot the reviewer just yet!
There are some great songs here, Sondheim mini classics. Not only the epic and aching “Losing My Mind” but the wit in “Could I Leave You”, the glitzy “Broadway Baby”, the soaring ballad “One Last Kiss”, the wonderful "Too Many Mornings" and the defiant “I’m Still Here”.
The costumes are gorgeous and the orchestra, under the direction of Dave Adey, is lush and sweeping, creating the romantic atmosphere.
Directed by Phil Simcox with the wonderful choreography of Pauline Reader, There are some beautiful dance pieces here which are truly hypnotic.
There are some very strong voices in Good Companions, most notably Davron Hicks (Benjamin), Hilary Leam (Sally) and Dionne Reid (Carlotta). They are all very strong vocally, and I appreciate that Sondheim pieces are notoriously difficult to perform.
The cast is massive, boasting 45 strong, but the stage didn't look overcrowded, giving due credit to the Director and Stage Manager, Steve Cole..
There were a few teething issues where the sound was concerned and throughout it was sometimes difficult to hear some of the spoken word and the quiet start of "Losing My Mind" when the mics didn't come on in time. It was first night so I expect sound issues, it's not uncommon.
Sondheim’s musicals can be dark and look at the more morose side of life, and that’s good as a contrast to many musicals which all end happy and in love. What this particular musical lacked though was a sustainable plot. The songs were good, the cast did their job admirably and looked and sounded good but i just don't think the musical is one of Sondheim's strongest.
“Follies” is at Derby Theatre until Saturday 4 November 2017