Follies in London 2017

Started by Chris L, Jun 20, 2017, 09:55 am

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Chris L

Oct 24, 2017, 10:13 pm #75 Last Edit: Oct 25, 2017, 12:16 am by Chris L
There has been a great clamor from, oh, at least two people for me to write a review of the National Theater's Follies, which @AmyG and I saw last week in London. I've been hesitant to do so because I don't really feel equipped for it. I've seen three previous productions of Follies, but they were all directed by Eric Schaeffer of Washington, DC's, Signature Theater, the first at Signature in 2003 (with our friend Donna Migliaccio as Carlotta), the second at the Kennedy Center in 2011 and the third here in LA, after the KC production had a run on Broadway, so I'm not really sure I know the show well enough to comment on how this was different from earlier productions. Nonetheless, a few thoughts.

The production design was stunning. You can get a look at the set in the trailer @scenicdesign71 posted above. The thrust stage had a huge turntable with a mobile, rotating setpiece on top -- a large wall with the Follies logo and the words "Glorifying the American Girl" on one side, which rotated to reveal a fire escape style staircase where both "The Girls Upstairs" and "Beautiful Girls" were performed. (The actresses appeared one at a time through a door at the top and walked down three zigzagging, wrought iron flights to reach the bottom as Roscoe sang.) The orchestra was clearly visible through a transparent scrim at the rear of the stage, which seemed somehow appropriate in a show about theater itself.

Imelda Staunton gave an energetic, nuanced performance that captured everything that's pathetic about Sally, but I was just as impressed by Peter Forbes as Buddy, whose performance of "The Right Girl" was absolutely heart-wrenching. Janie Dee's Phyllis seemed a bit off during "The Girls Upstairs," her voice cracking on so many notes that I wondered if she had a cold, but she knocked both "Leave You" and "The Story of Lucy and Jessie" out of the park. And while I wasn't quite as blown away by Philip Quast's Ben, perhaps because he doesn't get his tour de force number until the end (with a huge projection of his face looming behind him as he breaks down), he still held his own against his co-stars throughout.

I wish I knew the Follies book well enough to tell you how this one differs from the one that's usually performed, but Ben's monologue as he has his breakdown at the end of "Live, Laugh, Love" seemed longer and more intense than I recall from other productions and his lines about  Sally -- "You said you were going to kill yourself, so I just kept saying I loved you" -- finally clarified for me why Sally had been hung up on him all these years. It helped that the actress playing young Sally was almost as good as Staunton and it hurt to see her grasping at young Ben (or older Ben, as the ghosts and their older counterparts switched off in interacting with one another). As Amy has commented elsewhere, it was the first time I thought I fully understood her relationship with young Ben. Really, though, all of the ghosts were extraordinary.

The depiction of Weismann was -- there's no other word for it -- creepy, as he floated through his scenes like a zombie-ish specter from another era, barely in touch with the real world. When he talked wistfully about how he could have had any of the Follies girls "for a song" I turned to Amy and whispered, "Harvey Weinstein?" While the parallel couldn't have been intended, given the timing, it was impossible to escape. At the end, as the four ghosts finally stepped into center stage and confronted one another, a light came up on Weismann standing in the doorway behind them, raising his hands as though orchestrating their relationships like a puppeteer. It was an odd note, but it stayed with me for quite a while after the lights came up.

@Bobster -- any comments?
But us, old friend,
What's to discuss, old friend?

Leighton

Interesting thoughts, Chris; thanks!  

I do not remember the Ben projection at all ... @Gordonb @Vera Charles was this a thing?  Did I totally miss this?  I loved Quast; he is so effortlessly brilliant, though less showy than the other three are 
Self indulgence is better than no indulgence!

Chris L

Quote from: Leighton on Oct 25, 2017, 10:10 amInteresting thoughts, Chris; thanks! 

I do not remember the Ben projection at all ... @Gordonb @Vera Charles was this a thing?  Did I totally miss this?  I loved Quast; he is so effortlessly brilliant, though less showy than the other three are
That's a fair assessment. His performance was quietly powerful, which is appropriate for Ben, which isn't a showy role until his breakdown at the end. As for the projection, you couldn't have missed it. It was huge. I'm pretty sure it was on the drop cloth that fell across the stage at the beginning of the Loveland sequence. It may have been added later, to make sure the audience got his final monologue, which pretty much tied the show together. (You saw it during previews, right?)
But us, old friend,
What's to discuss, old friend?

FIG

@Chris L, Thanks for your review, I seeing it a week from Friday! Really excited.

Leighton

Nope, saw it once it had opened ... I definitely don't remember it, I wonder if it was added later ... 
Self indulgence is better than no indulgence!

Chris L

Quote from: Leighton on Oct 26, 2017, 01:32 pmNope, saw it once it had opened ... I definitely don't remember it, I wonder if it was added later ...
Oddly, Amy doesn't remember it either, but I'm pretty sure I wasn't hallucinating. I suspect I would have hallucinated something much more interesting than a huge image of Quast's face. ;)
But us, old friend,
What's to discuss, old friend?


Chris L

Oct 29, 2017, 12:34 pm #82 Last Edit: Oct 29, 2017, 04:59 pm by Chris L
Quote from: Gordonb on Oct 29, 2017, 06:16 amJanie Dee and Philip Quast in conversation t the National

I hope this works.
It works! Nice to hear Dee and Quast using their normal accents.
But us, old friend,
What's to discuss, old friend?

scenicdesign71

It worked for me too.  Great interviews (Cooke also) -- thanks so much for posting, Gordon!

Leighton

Gordon, do you remember the big projection of Quast's face?
Self indulgence is better than no indulgence!

Gordonb

Quote from: Leighton on Oct 29, 2017, 02:06 pmGordon, do you remember the big projection of Quast's face?
Not really, but then I can't remember what I had for dinner last night most days!

Gordonb

Quote from: scenicdesign71 on Oct 29, 2017, 01:56 pmIt worked for me too.  Great interviews (Cooke also) -- thanks so much for posting, Gordon!
It's a shame that the "In Converstion" with Steve isn't available  :(

MartinG

Yes, without a smidgen of doubt there was a vast projection of Ben/Quast's head seemingly spinning - or filmed from various aspects - on the wall and the Loveland gauze, as far as I could see from my less-than-central viewpoint.

More anon...
Morals tomorrow

Chris L

Quote from: MartinG on Nov 02, 2017, 03:25 pmYes, without a smidgen of doubt there was a vast projection of Ben/Quast's head seemingly spinning - or filmed from various aspects - on the wall and the Loveland gauze, as far as I could see from my less-than-central viewpoint.

More anon...
Thank God! I'm not insane!  ;D
But us, old friend,
What's to discuss, old friend?

Leighton

Haha how did I miss this?!
Self indulgence is better than no indulgence!