Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Everything Was Possible

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Everything Was Possible

Article excerpt

London's Follies in concert: a stupendous entertainment

Producers Doug Pinchin and Richard Morris teamed up on Feb. 4, 2007, with leading U.K. director and choreographer Bill Deamer for their third Sondheim one-night charity production. They chose the 1994 BBC radio version of Follies to bring together some of London and Broadway's finest stars.

The radio element added nothing, and veteran news anchorman Sir Trevor McDonald, given only two dialogue outings, really brought little more than another famous name to the performance. As a one-nighter, the show lacked full costumes and a full setting, perched on the vast Palladium stage in front of the carefully hidden set for The Sound of Music, the theatre's current production.

Nonetheless this was a stupendous evening's entertainment. From the moment a solitary showgirl in white and silver glided across a central gantry and opera star Bonaventura Bottone effortlessly reached the top notes of "Beautiful Girls," you knew that Deamer and the producers had put together the best cast they could find.

On a vast stage looking out at 2,000 patrons, it seemed impossible to get the heart-wrenching intimacy of four lives falling apart. But Tim Flavin (Buddy), Philip Quast (Ben), Maria Friedman (Sally) and Liz Robertson (Phyllis) brought their scenes right down to that emotional level and sustained it throughout a heavily cut sequence of dialogue scenes.

There was no weak link in the four stars. The raw panic of a housewife breaking up in "Losing My Mind" was Friedman's finest moment of the night, clutching the central staircase and deliberately twitching her head left and right on the line "Not looking left/Not looking right." Quast had a manic-eyed intensity that would surely conquer the role of Sweeney Todd. In "Live, Laugh, Love" he stayed stock still, slowly disintegrating into his pathetic cry for "Phyllis" at the song's end. Robertson is still every inch the showgirl dancer, and she here pulled off Phyllis's "dragon lady" act brilliantly, certainly having the most acid lines in the script. Flavin, a very accomplished song-and-dance man, played Buddy as a sexy salesman who could do tricks with his hat to lighten the otherwise manic approach he took to his "God Why Don't You Love Me Blues" number.

The smaller parts were strongly cast, too, featuring luminaries such as Imelda Staunton (star of the recent film Vera Drake) belting out "Broadway Baby," albeit in a rather flat performance. Stage veteran star Liliane Montevecchi reprised her original role of Solange and high-kicked her way down the staircase, so that I feared for a cast member if one of her shoes suddenly took flight. …

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