‘Follies’ in concert at Albert Hall
By Clive Davis
April 30, 2015
The long queue at the box office seemed in danger of getting out of hand at point, which was not really so surprising. Revivals of Stephen Soundheim’s sprawling dissection of the power and pitfalls of nostalgia do not come along every day
This one-off – a matinee and an evening performance staged in honour of the composer’s 85th birthday — boasted a tantalising cast with Betty Buckley, Christine Baranski, Ruthie Hensall, Lorna Luft and Stefanie Powers among the ageing showgirls conjuring up memories of dreams and marriages run aground.
Baranski, as Phyllis, made the most of every one of her acerbic one-liners. And as Carlotta, Buckley seized ‘I’m Still Here’ by the throat. Any singer who tackles ‘Broadway Baby’ has the ghost of Elaine Strich hovering at her shoulder. Luft made the song her own. But who would have predicted that Anita Dobson would receive one of the biggest cheers of the night as her feisty Stella stormed through ‘Who’s That Woman?’ She deserved it.
Inevitably, the sheer size of the Albert Hall and those infamous acoustics undercut the sense of confessional intimacy. In the arena, even thought I was sitting relatively close to the stage, I was straining to catch some of the lyrics and dialogue. Given those restraints, Craig Revel Horwood kept the proceedings at a nimble pace. Andrew Wright’s discreet ensemble choreography and the spirited playing of the orchestra conducted by the ever-dependable Gareth Valentine went along way to masking the cracks in James Goldman’s often stilted book.
In this setting the overly schematic contrast of the two central couples did not loom quite so large. The songs and spectacle were the focus. Keeping us waiting for the interval, which finally arrived just before the Loveland sequence, was a distraction though.
In the end, too much passion, too much angst, was compressed into a fleeting second half. Never mind. We cheered anyway. As Buddy, Peter Polycarpou was on glorious, vaudeville form in ‘The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me Blues’ and Henshall’s rendition of ‘Losing My Mind’ simmered with barely suppressed rage.