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Five Things You Should Know About Follies

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1.    Let’s cut to the chase: Follies contains some of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen in a musical.

It features Stephen Sondheim veterans Philip Quast, Imelda Staunton and Janie Dee. Most incredible of all, the way this sparkly ensemble revisit their former lives from 30 years ago to when they first met while working as Follies dancers. The ghosts of the past send shivers up your spine. Also, Tracie Bennett in particular steals the show on a few occasions in a hall of mirrors for all shades of misery

2.    With a near 30-year history and a world-class reputation, Sondheim shows are no strangers to the National Theatre (Judi Dench appeared in ‘A Little Night Music’ in the Olivier, 1995 and Philip Quast in ‘Sunday in the Park With George’ in the Lyttelton Theatre, 1990 etc, etc and so on).

It’s hard to avoid the fact that most of Follies’ action takes place on a stage revolve resembling a merry-go-round in West Side Story. The beauty of this show lies in the precision that draws the multi-layered elements together.

3.    There are incredibly few directors who could carry off at least three quarters of this show. Dominic Cooke’s production for the National Theatre has kept the songs in the faithful style – the orchestra are sublime – but when Imelda delivers a refreshingly devastating low-key version of ‘Losing My Mind’, it’s the night’s highlight. A haunting exploration of character.

This is an inventively staged production with a cast and the arrangements are of a phenomenally high standard. As well as being expertly written the majority of these songs are also skilfully structured and only serve to reaffirm Sondheim’s Godlike genius.

 

4.    The choreography itself is beautiful, reflecting the sorrow, torment and human resilience in both the music and the performances. Everything slots perfectly into place in this magnificent evocation of showbiz. Sweeping across the stage are buckets of Swarovski crystals, sashes, sequined frocks and outfits that reel you in from start to finish.

This is the first time Dominic Cooke has directed a musical. Luckily, there’s a clarity of vision that’s practically unrivalled in the current musical theatre scene. Follies feels effortlessly enchanting.

5.    Vicky Mortimer’s show-making set and costume design uses a crumbling theatre on a revolving set to remind us how the characters’ lives are confined and ravaged by theatre; Bill Dreamer’s vivid choreography, deserves a mention again, his work with ‘Loveland’ pays hymn to the showbiz past; and the orchestra has a glorious, brassy ring.

The production’s centrepiece – to these eyes, anyway – is ‘I’m Still Here’, a track for which Apple Music single song repeat function could well have been invented. A dazzle to watch. 

But the show is not perfect and I can see people’s concerns about Imelda’s suitability as a ‘Showgirl’ or that her vocals may be underpowered. They are missing the point; these things add to the charm of the production. The no interval thing is a bit crap….

Nevertheless, nothing is left to chance here, folks.

I make that a considered, authoritative and concrete 9/10. Also: Looks like my work here is done. Time to go to the pub.

Follies runs in the Olivier Theatre at the National until 3 January.

‘FYI’ Follies will be broadcast by NT Live to cinemas in the UK and internationally on Thursday 16 November.

Spectacular Seussical Launch on stage at Theatre Royal Winchester

Seussical the Musical Launch 

Wednesday 17 June 2015 

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Supporters were treated to a mini preview of Theatre Royal Winchester’s Summer Youth Theatre Musical Seussical this week. Seussical is a colourful musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty based on the books of Dr Seuss. The young people between the ages of 8-16 performed two numbers on stage to a supportive crowd.

The show is directed by me, with choreography by Ryan Grimshaw and Musical Direction by Robert Rayner. The colourful design by Hayley Spicer with costumes made by the very talented Arts University Bournemouth Students and puppets by Stuff and Nonsense with Holly Miller.

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Team FOH

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Our young people absolutely delivered the goods! The two songs were electric and true to the spirit of the production highlighting everything you would want and expect from a show that includes characters from the wonderful world of Dr Seuss, whilst promising unexpected delights.4ImDi80nQ-WItwkMhvdVLZAVrY4Y6wFjuBYSM6ZE0g4

Young Theatre Royal gives young performers aged 6 to 21 the opportunity to create theatre and perform.

Seussical will run from Saturday 18 July to Sunday 19 July 2015 and is sponsored by Darren Northeast PR and supported by Hampshire Chamber of Commerce. To book visit theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk

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Fun is good.” Dr. Seuss

Photo credit Dominic Parkes