THIS highly anticipated return of Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical Follies, unperformed in Britain for three decades, is the story of a reunion at a Broadway theatre set for demolition and the personal lives of two former showgirls and their husbands who performed there.
The dilapidated Weissman theatre they revisit, in Vicki Mortimer’s stunning revolving set design, is the perfect symbol for the quartet’s crumbling relationships.
Buddy Plummer (Peter Forbes) is married to Sally Durant Plummer (Imelda Staunton) who is still madly in — unrequited — love with Benjamin Stone (Philip Quast) and he in turn is in a rocky and unhappy marriage with Phyllis Rogers Stone (Janie Dee).
Powerful numbers by the legendary Sondheim highlight the demons the four struggle with in this evocation of the bygone era of interwar Broadway, with showgirls performing in the Ziegfeld Follies revues interwoven into the plot.
It’s a musical of depth and intelligence, given an impressive revival by director Dominic Cooke.
Although at times guilty of getting a little self-absorbed it’s an epic production which, over two and a quarter hours without interval, cumulatively packs an impressive punch.
Ingeniously, all the characters at the reunion — including a lively array of showgirls — appear on stage with their younger selves and at times interact with them.
The shattering of boundaries between past and present is hugely poignant, underscoring the double meaning of the musical’s title which references the foolishness of the unhappy protagonists, wonderfully conveyed in the closing numbers.
In One More Kiss, one of the biggest belters of the night, we see 78-year-old opera singer Josephine Barstow, playing showgirl Heidi Schiller, joined on stage with her younger counterpart Alison Langer in a truly spectacular duet that threatens to bring the roof down.
With productions like this, it’s unlikely we’ll be waiting another 30 years for the next one on our shores. Not to be missed.