Thursday, 30 April 2015

Sweetheart, lover, could I recover?

Madam Arcati, Alistair and I were mega-excited on Tuesday, as we headed to the ultimate in prestigious venues The Royal Albert Hall for a one-night-only production (by TV star Craig Revell-Horwood) of Stephen Sondheim's classic Follies! Being three "arch-Sondheimites", and given the all-star cast and the fact the show has not been seen (in is entirety) in London since 1987, this was certain to be a treat.

It definitely was all that, and more!

Follies is one of Sondheim's proudest achievements, crammed full of his most timeless and clever songs; its premise is the reunion of a (now-faded) troupe of former showgirls at the variety theatre that saw some of their greatest triumphs, just prior to its demolition. The story focuses in on the underlying regrets of two of the original stars, "Phyllis" and "Sally" about their life choices (mainly, their respective unhappy marriages to "Ben" and "Buddy", the "boys at the stage door" who courted them when they were famous), and is traditionally - and camply - staged as a "star vehicle" for a parade of the kind of ageing showbiz troupers so beloved of "gentlemen who are light in their loafers". And it is true - of the 5,000 capacity packed house, a sizeable majority were most definitely homosexualists...

The cast in this glittering "In Concert" production was a remarkable collection of faces beloved of us at Dolores Delargo Towers - Stefanie Powers, Anita Dobson, Betty Buckley, Lorna Luft, Anita Harris, Roy Hudd - and, best of all, Ruthie Henshall as "Sally" and Christine Baranski as "Phyllis"! What more could we ask for?

It was brilliantly staged, considering the vastness of the Hall and the looming presence of the City of London Philharmonic orchestra and chorus, with the use of (moveable) huge dressing-room mirror frames to shape and highlight the intimacy of different scenes. Particularly effective was the way the mirrors were used (especially in the operatic duet One More Kiss (performed beautifully by Charlotte Page) and the rumbustious Who's That Woman?) to "reflect" the showgirls singing and dancing in time with the "ghosts" of their younger selves.

Speaking of Who's That Woman? - this was Miss Dobson's finest hour (she allegedly learned to tap dance specifically in order to lead this "old chorine/young chorine" ensemble routine); I for one have never known such a tumultuous standing ovation for one number in the middle of a show before. We saw her hubbie Brian May before the show - he must have been so proud.

And what of the "big name troupers"? Of the "turns", only the duet between Miss Harris and Mr Hudd Rain on the Roof, sweet and cuddly as it was, failed to "gel"; they are not natural duettists, it seems, and were somewhat wobbly. Miss Luft was as brassy and belting and brilliant as we could have hoped on Broadway Baby, the predestination of her genes saw to that. Miss Powers was a revelation - we never realised what a fabulous singer she is, and her Ah, Paris was a delight.

Miss Buckley was simply great on I'm Still Here - she's no Stritchy, nor Eartha, but she twinkled and purred and evoked exactly the right world-weary tone for the lyrics, before ramping it up a gear or several for the climactic final verses... Wonderful!

Good times and bum times, I've seen them all
And, my dear, I'm still here
Plush velvet sometimes
Sometimes just pretzels and beer, but I'm here

I've stuffed the dailies in my shoes
Strummed ukuleles, sung the blues
Seen all my dreams disappear but I'm here.
I've slept in shanties, guest of the W.P.A., but I'm here
Danced in my scanties
Three bucks a night was the pay, but I'm here

I've stood on bread lines with the best
Watched while the headlines did the rest
In the depression was I depressed?
Nowhere near, I met a big financier and I'm here

I've been through Gandhi, Windsor and Wally's affair, and I'm here
Amos 'n' Andy, Mah-jongg and platinum hair, and I'm here
I got through Abie's, Irish Rose, Five Dionne babies, Major Bowes
Had heebie-jeebies for Beebe's, Bathysphere
I got through Brenda Frazier, and I'm here

I've gotten through Herbert and J. Edgar Hoover
Gee, that was fun and a half
When you've been through Herbert and J. Edgar Hoover
Anything else is a laugh

I've been through Reno, I've been through Beverly Hills, and I'm here.
Reefers and vino, rest cures, religion and pills, and I'm here
Been called a 'Pinko', commie tool, got through it stinko by my pool
I should've gone to an acting school, that seems clear
Still someone said, "She's sincere", so I'm here

Black sable one day, next day it goes into hock, but I'm here
Top billing Monday, Tuesday, you're touring in stock, but I'm here
First you're another sloe-eyed vamp
Then someone's mother, then you're camp
Then you career from career to career
I'm almost through my memoirs, and I'm here

I've gotten through, "Hey, lady, aren't you whoozis?
Wow, what a looker you were"
Or better yet, "Sorry, I thought you were whoozis
Whatever happened to her?"

Good times and bum times, I've seen 'em all
And, my dear, I'm still here
Plush velvet sometimes
Sometimes just pretzels and beer, but I'm here

I've run the gamut, A to Z
Three cheers and dammit, C'est la vie
I got through all of last year, and I'm here
Lord knows, at least I was there, and I'm here
Look who's here, I'm still here!

[...ah, Stritchy, how we miss you...]

However, none of the aforementioned ladies (and gentleman) were the actual stars of the show. That honour went to Miss Henshall and Miss Baranski (ably matched by Alexander Hanson as "Ben" and Peter Polycarpou as "Buddy").

Miss Henshall was in fine voice (and was very convincing) as the "woman-on-the-edge" Sally, rejected in love as a girl by Ben and desperately making herself and the errant philanderer Buddy unhappy in their subsequent marriage as a consequence. Her poignant In Buddy's Eyes (which sounds like a love song, but in context is anything but), and fraught Losing My Mind were definite highlights, as was her and Mr Hanson's duet about their long-ago romance Too Many Mornings.

But nothing compares to the magnificent Miss Christine Baranski in full-on bitch-mode... Icily dismissive of Ben, their high society lifestyle and everything in-between, silently mourning what could have become of her life had she stayed in showbiz yet all the time realising she's left it too late, she performed an absolute corker on The Story of Lucy and Jessie - and her acidly bitchy Could I Leave You? was utterly wonderful!

Leave you? Leave you?
How could I leave you? How could I go it alone?
Could I wave the years away? With a quick goodbye?
How do you wipe tears away when your eyes are dry?

Sweetheart, lover, could I recover?
Give up the joys I have known?
Not to fetch your pills again every day at five
Not to give those dinners for ten elderly men from the UN

How could I survive? Could I leave you
And your shelves of the world's best books
And the evenings of martyred looks, cryptic sighs
Sullen glares from those injured eyes?

Leave the quips with a sting, jokes with a sneer
Passionless lovemaking once a year?
Leave the lies ill-concealed and the wounds never healed
And the game's not worth winning and wait, I'm just beginning

What, leave you, leave you? How could I leave you?
What would I do on my own? Putting thoughts of you aside

In the south of France, would I think of suicide?
Darling, shall we dance? Could I live through the pain
On a terrace in Spain? Would it pass? It would pass
Could I bury my rage with a boy half your age
In the grass? Bet your ass!

But I've done that already or didn't you know, love?
Tell me, how could I leave when I left long ago, love?
Could I leave you? No, the point is, could you leave me?
Well, I guess you could leave me the house, leave me the flat

Leave me the Braques and Chagalls and all that
You could leave me the stocks for sentiment's sake
And ninety percent of the money you make
And the rugs and the cooks, darling, you keep the drugs

Angel, you keep the books, honey, I'll take the grand
Sugar you keep the spinet and all of our friends and
Just wait a goddamn minute!

Oh, leave you? Leave you? How could I leave you?
Sweetheart, I have to confess, could I leave you?Yes
Will I leave you? Will I leave you?


It is no wonder that is one of my favourite songs - and watching/hearing such an icon as Miss Baranski give it her full Broadway treatment was an utter joy.

[It could never match David Kernan's "gay version" in the original London production of "Side By Side by Sondheim"; then again nothing can...]:

[...but I digress...]

Full accolades must go, of course, to the younger versions of the cast - especially the leads Sally (Amy Ellen Richardson), Buddy (Jos Slovick), Phyllis (Laura Pitt-Pulford) and Ben (gay pin-up-du-jour Alistair Brammer) - all of whom were vocally excellent, and showed tremendous skill when (frequently) called upon to be the synchronised "ghosts", dancing and gesticulating in time with the older stars. Full marks to choreographer Andrew Wright for the excellent routines!

Despite the imbalance between opening segment (two hours) and finale scenes (half-an-hour); despite the awkwardness of being seated in "the pit" at the Hall, where the audience's heads are all at one level; and despite the venue selling out of programmes before we had even arrived, this was a truly awesome (and once-in-a-lifetime - we'll never see this cast perform together again!) experience. I was blown away by it all (and I am still humming the choons).


PS I think Meryl enjoyed it too. We didn't speak.


  1. Thanks for the groovy review! Sounds like it was a fabulous and unforgettable evening.

  2. Sound truly memorable, sweetie. Glad you enjoyed it :-) Hils x
    PS. Those photos weren't yours were they??

    1. I think I'd be more than happy if they were, dear - the Royal Albert Hall, however, gets a bit sniffy about such things. In any case, most of or shots might well have involved the tops of other people's heads, given the seating arrangements... Jx

  3. Please, God, let Meryl have been there because she's contemplating participation in a film version. She'd be a Phyllis for the ages (Hell, I think she coould play any of the parts, up to and possibly including Roscoe).

    That would almost make up for not having filmed it in time to catch the last of the Golden Age greats (like the contemplated, unrealized iteration directly after the first Broadway edition, which would haved moved the action from a theatre to a closing MGM-style studio and featured names like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford...). I'm deeply envious and at the same time so glad you were there!

    1. Apparently Miss Streep was guest of honour at the after-party; she is Miss Baranski's "best friend", it says...

      I just cannot imagine what a movie version with the great combo of Miss Davis and Miss Crawford might have turned out like - and what the hell would either of them have been given to sing? Competent Joan may have been on short, light material, but she was never "Miss Showbiz" as some of these roles require. As for Miss Davis...

      What will be interesting to see is who will accompany Miss Streep in a new film version. I'll reckon it's a fairly safe bet that Miss MacLaine will be cast, but who else..? Miss Channing? Miss Minnelli? Miss Midler?

      The mind boggles. Jx

  4. Reading your review I wish I had got a ticket for this now - x

    1. You missed an absolute gem, dear! Jx


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