Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s Follies, one of the great American musicals, looks back to the golden age of vaudeville and the glamour of the famously beautiful Ziegfeld Follies, with their long legs, furs, feathers and fantastic headgears.
The musical is so expensive to stage that revivals have usually been concert performances. Dominic Cooke’s thrilling production for the National Theatre is the first full-scale version since 1987. It’s a major theatrical event and not to be missed.
The action is set during a reunion of old chorus girls in a crumbling theatre, where they once performed and which is about to be pulled down to make way for a car park. The party is also attended by chorus girl ghosts, heavily sequined and gloriously feathered, who silently stalk their older selves.
Ziegfeld’s shows in the 1920s and 1930s were famous for their spectacular lavishness, an opulence which the National Theatre cannot match, not having the financial resources. There is no grand staircase for starters. The leads instead make their entrance down a fire escape, a brilliantly witty and appropriate alternative.
High spots include Beautiful Girls, the ultimate showgirls-descending-staircase number, and Mirrors, when the old and the young have a joint dance routine.
Tracie Bennett singing I’m Still Here and Di Botcher singing Broadway Baby, two definitive songs of survival against the odds, predictably stop the show. Josephine Barstow has her show‑stopping moment with One More Kiss, which is made all the more poignant for being sung with her younger self (Alison Langer). Wisecracking Janie Dee singing Could I Leave You and Imelda Staunton singing In Buddy’s Eyes and Losing My Mind give the show its bitterness and pathos.
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