I have never seen James Goldman and Stephen Sondheim’s 1971 musical Follies ever before, until last night. It was only by chance that I was a subscriber to the National Theatre’s e-letters that I first heard about the date (July 18th) they were releasing tickets for the sensational show with leading actress Imelda Staunton. Her breathtaking performance at the Harold Pinter Theatre for Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, this year, gave me a lasting impression of her stage work; it was a no-brainer to book a ticket and see her again. Yet Follies isn’t just about one performer. Other stars from the musical world are present here such as Janie Dee, Tracie Bennett, Dawn Hope and opera soprano Josephine Barstow, and most of them left the audience positively speechless. It comes as no surprise that they won the audience’s heart with the many rounds of applause they received after each solo number.
Follies is a celebratory and nostalgic work of musical theatre that unveils the happenings of a reunion of the Weisman (pseudo-Ziegfeld) Follies girls, that’s three decades after they first stepped into the revue theatre stage. Director Dominic Cooke, designer Vicki Mortimer and choreographer Bill Deamer are part of a creative team that pushes the boundaries with Sondheim’s imagining, which easily plucks our heartstrings. There’s a live orchestra of twenty musicians, conducted by Nigel Lilley, which are sadly hidden behind the main stage, yet they are masterful at their individual craft. Whether it was a harp, flute or brass instrument, the audience heard the sounds and admired Sondheim’s score. As previously pointed out, this is the first time I’ve seen Follies, yet, still, I found a strong emotional pull towards the musical performances that I had tears rolling down my cheeks, following numerous great numbers including ‘Beautiful Girls’, ‘Broadway Baby’, ‘Who’s that woman?’ and ‘One More Kiss’. I wasn’t sure if it was Sondheim I should be thanking, or the performers, or both. Either way, this was a brilliant performance that had me smiling endlessly.