Royal Festival Hall, August 2002


Review by Emma Shane

© August 2002


Just what does happen to sweet talented young chorus girls, such as Ziegfeld Follies Girls, or The Muppet Show’s assorted creatures (for example Annie Sue Pig), when they grow up? This revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical Follies, about a group of such chorus girls having their first and last reunion in the ruins of their old theatre, attempts to answer that question. It is a reunion full of the young ghosts of our stars themselves, and the roads they didn’t take.


The show opens in the rundown, about to be pulled down, Weissman Theatre, and over the overture an assortment of ghosts in Follies costumes dance. The show proper starts with the entrance of Sally Durant Plummer, an excellent role for Kathryn Evans. Her husband, Buddy, didn’t want her to come tonight, but she wanted to come. It is not long before other ex-Follies girls begin to arrive for the reunion. One of the most noticeable of these is Phyllis Rogers Stone, described by her husband Ben Stone as “An extraordinary woman, endlessly exciting; well if you are going to have a character who is meant to be “An extraordinary woman”, then it makes sense to have “An extraordinary woman” to play her, and this production has cast a real gem, the endlessly exciting amazingly talented actress-singer-and-puppeteer Louise Gold. Phyllis is a loud quick witted sophisticated wisecracker. One of this multitalented performer’s greatest gifts is her ability to deliver her lines wonderfully well, this is probably helped by the fact that her comic-timing is about as near perfect as you can get, and she projects a loud clear speaking voice. Few actresses have the ability to speak ironic comedy lines as well as Louise Gold can. The principle quartet is completed by the arrival of Sally’s husband Buddy Plummer, who has spent most of the day up there in a plane. Here too is another perfect piece of casting, the outstanding actor, famously dumped by Broadway (earlier this year, allegedly for not being funny enough), good old reliable Henry Goodman.  More old-girls: Solonge La Fitt, the film star Carlotta Campion, the delightful Hattie Walker, Heidi Schiller, Stella Deems, the miscellaneous Christine, and funny little vaudevillian Emily Whitman, played by: Anna Nicholas, Diane Langton, Joan Savage, Julia Goss, Shezwae Powell, Paddy Glynn, and, West End stalwart Myra Sands, have arrived, in the case of Stella and Emily with their respective husbands. Hattie has had five husbands, all of whom died (they were given to living fast exciting lives riding motorbikes and such like).  Demitri Weisman himself, played by Russell Dixon, enters and proceeds to welcome them all here, and using a bit of the staircase set, with Roscoe (Paul Bentley) to bring them on, most of the old-girls make an entrance, Beautiful Girls. It is great to see this number, so often attempted in concerts and revues, most notably Side By Side By Sondheim, here in its original setting of faded glory entrances. For once Louise Gold actually manages to get through the number without making all that much of a spectacle of herself.


Now for the first time in years Sally finds herself encountering Ben, a man she was once in love with. Then his wife enters “It’s Sally isn’t it?” “Phyllis” says Sally greeting her onetime best friend and flatmate. Sally did the cleaning and Phyl the cooking (“baked beans and peanut butter sandwiches”), and Sally never did make the beds, I found myself wondering if this was a dig at Kander And Ebb’s Two Ladies? (A song which coincidentally Louise Gold has recorded, also as the one who does the cooking!) Their lives have taken very different paths, as the reunion continues, various pairs of the quartet continue to encounter each other, Ben tells Buddy that Phyllis is “An extraordinary woman”, Ben and Phyl snap wittily and both hold their own on the stage. Ben encounters Sally and thinking of the old days they duet Don’t Look At Me. Kathryn Evans and David Durham sang this number effectively. They are not the only one time couple who might want other people, their respective other halves also like each other. Meanwhile Phyllis and Buddy enter (for two such significant actors incredibly) quietly from stage right, with Buddy reminding Phyllis of the crazy things she and Sally did when they were young (such as diving into a lake, on a dare). Louise Gold’s characterisation of Phyllis’s initial disbelief and then reflection of regret that she and Ben don’t “do” things anymore is uncannily believable. Urged by Sally and Buddy the four of them find themselves reminiscing about the old days, Waiting For The Girls Upstairs. The sophisticated Phyllis and Ben are initially hostile to this, but soon get caught up in joining in, with Sally and Phyllis clambering up the stairs ready to descend at the appropriate point in the song. Now at last Louise Gold can begin to unstiffen and allow her own joyous personality to shine through. One of her lines “Giggling wriggling out of our tights.” gives her a welcome opportunity to indulge a little in one of those silly voices that she is so good at doing and making work effectively in a song without sounding gimmickey. While with the line “Chattering and clattering down all of those flights” we find that Kathryn Evans is almost as good at making ‘silly’ work.  It is noticeable that both Kathryn Evans and Louise Gold are accomplished belters.  Midway through the song the quartet are joined by their young ghosts. Emma Clifford as Young Sally and Kerry Jay as Young Phyllis look convincing enough, although their singing voices do not have the sheer strength and power that their older counterparts do, but then (good though Kerry Jay’s voice is) it would be practically impossible to find anyone with as strong a voice as Louise Gold’s uniquely powerful pipes.


Continuing the reunion now is a chance for some of the bit players to shine, with their solos. First up, a pair of slightly dotty retired vaudevillians Emily and Theodore Whitman (played by Myra Sands and Tony Kemp), Listen To The Rain On The Roof. The number is an affectionate little well performed vaudeville piece, all be it one that seems to get a trifle buried within the rest of the show, although Myra Sands’s singing voice is pleasantly distinctive. Next is Solange La Fitte with Ah, Paris. This number has been done several times in concerts and revues, such as Move On and Side By Side By Sondheim. It is actually rather nice to see it sung convincingly with a French accent, although the less about Anna Nicholas’s diction the better. All in all I certainly got a better feel for what Sondheim was doing writing this number in the first place, though. Undoubtedly the best of this trio of songs came last, Hattie Walker with the Sondheim classic Broadway Baby, a stunning performance from the excellent Joan Savage. Of all the performers tonight, she was one of the few who best captured the spirit of an older actress reliving and recapturing a part of her youth. She sang the number with the utmost sincerity, like someone who really had been in that situation, and for the first time in the evening the years fell away, and we could literally believe this girl’s plea to the producer. She sang the number with very little explicit irony, but simply with shear conviction, it is one of the highlights of the first act.


Having had a bit of light relief, now it is back the reality of gloom and irony, and Ben and Sally. First of all Ben, wondering why he didn’t marry Sally, The Road You Didn’t Take. Although David Durham’s singing was adequate, coming so soon after Broadway Baby the number was a bit on the unremarkable side. Ben in particular is still being plagued by the ghosts, how he spurned Sally in favour of Phyllis. The ghosts vary in how convincing they are. Emma Clifford’s Young Sally is a simple daffy empty-headed girl, and it is easy to believe how she has grown into Kathryn Evan’s Sally in terms of personality. Hugh Maynard’s Young Ben seems to be rather unsure of where he is going, but then again perhaps there is some point to this, although we never really quite understand how Ben got to where he got, does it have something to do with Phyllis? As he said earlier “She’s an extraordinary woman”. And what of Young Phyllis herself, Kerry Jay successfully captures the character’s Muppet-like cuteness, she is a sweet talented young girl who is not without her own streak of ambition; Rather similar to The Muppet’s Annie Sue Pig (especially in the Leo Sayer episode of The Muppet Show). It is a quality that her older counterpart, Louise Gold, always seems to have possessed, and to this day it can still manifest itself (at least whenever Ms Gold gets her left hand up a cute puppet). Thus it is believable that she will grow into a warm witty wisecrackering bitch who isn’t actually a bitch. There is only one quality that Kerry Jay’s portrayal seemed to lack, the character is ambitious, and promises she will educate herself, but her ambition only shows itself in her acting with Young Ben, in the chorus line she does not push herself forward as much as I would expect. In her older incarnation Phyllis dominates almost any scene she is in, in a way that her young counterpart does not. But that is not really Kerry Jay’s fault. Louise Gold has an almost unique ability to grab a scene and make herself noticed, almost subconsciously, it is a trait she was quite possibly born with, certainly, on film and TV, I have only come across one other actress (from a whole generation before Louise’s) who possesses quite that sort of trait, and even then not to the extent that Louise Gold does.


Phyllis continues to explain to Buddy how she became an artiste with her life. She talks about her life with Ben, they’re careful with their colours, and about how she had a lover once “His name was Jack, I think. He played the drums.” From one half of the dysfunctional couples to the other, Sally tells Ben about her life with Buddy, and Kathryn Evans now changed from belter to (Jermone Kern Operetta-type) soprano, sings In Buddy’s Eyes. She sings the number well. Then a surprise entrance from Phyllis. A surprise because I have never before seen the commanding Louise Gold convincingly sneak up behind another character (in a manner similar to a certain actor who can really play creepy well, perhaps she took a leaf out of his book!). Phyllis and Sally nearly fight, but decide not to. This is interrupted by the arrival of the other old-girls, lead by Stella, and the suggestion they should have a go at doing a number. “If you can, I can.” says Phyllis, who really seems to be entering into the spirit of the evening. One of Louise Gold’s great gifts as an actress is to play a girl who dragged herself up in society, possibly by marriage, but who somehow never quite looses her roots, and is still game to let her hair down. It is a quality that stood her in sterling stead in Mamma Mia (especially doing Dancing Queen and Super Trouper, Tanya would never have been convincing at persuading Donna to do a number at the hen night without it). Here in Follies that quality again makes her perfect casting for her role. Thus does Stella lead the other old-girls in Who’s That Woman. It was a brilliant number, and wonderful to see them all together. Myra Sands dances well, she is a lovely graceful little dancer, but has the misfortune to be at the wrong end of the line during the first section to get herself noticed, as most of our attention is, somewhat unintentionally, directed towards the other end of the line, where tall magnificent Louise Gold can’t help dominating the action. Well she probably could help it if she really tried, but actually one doesn’t want her to sit on that natural tendency to shine, because she wouldn’t be truly to herself if she did. The old-girls are soon joined, in the line behind them, by their ghosts, and before very long each is partnering her ghost, then for the middle part of the number the ghosts take the front of the stage, and for a time the number looks rather more convincingly like a chorus line, with no particular person shining, least of all Kerry Jay’s Young Phyllis. For the final part of the number everyone swaps round again, there are also a few changes in position, so that now Myra Sands is thankfully on the other side of the stage, close to Louise Gold, and thus it is actually possible to pay attention to her performance. It’s curious indeed the things a performer’s body won’t forget. Out of the old girl’s Myra Sands, Kathryn Evans and (surprisingly) Louise Gold have among the best footwork, while when it comes to putting arms into the number effectively Louise Gold’s big definite well defined movements win hands down, even showing the young ghosts how this should be done.


With the reunion in full swing there are many opportunities for people to meet who haven’t seen each other in years. One of the most memorable moments in this respect is when Emily Whitman introduces herself to Phyllis Rogers Stone, the girl who used to have a mirror next to hers in the dressing room. Phyllis seems to be in rather an angry bitter mood anyway, at first she pretends to ignore Emily or not to recognise her, finally unable to ignore her she acknowledges her and rasps “You never liked me. I never liked you either.” It was a marvellous moment of table-turning between two stalwarts of Ian Marshall-Fisher’s Lost Musicals. After all, how many times in those shows has Myra Sands played a character who did not like one of the leads, so often played by Louise Gold?  This is followed by the dysfunctional couples quarrelling, again. Buddy praises Sally, Ben hardly seems to have noticed Phyllis in the number, she has a few cutting remarks about that. Finally Buddy confesses to Sally about his mistress Margie. Then Phyllis challenges Ben to do something, like take a lover, her language seems to shock him (like it used to before he taught her not to use bad language) he exits, and she turns to a waiter (played by Matthew Attwell) and asks “I don’t suppose you play the drums?”


Now Carlotta, the film star, finally unburdens herself, I’m Still Here. Although Diane Langton sang the number reasonably well, her diction wasn’t too great, and the number didn’t quite manage to be the showstopper one expects it to be. It came across perhaps marginally better than when Cleo Laine did it in the Side By Side By Sondheim 25th Anniversary Gala, but somehow wasn’t quite as effective as some performances (such as: Millicent Martin’s on the Side By Side By Sondheim original cast album, or Louise Gold’s tour de force in the 1999 Chelmsford revival of Side By Side By Sondheim). Part of the problem with this song is that it is done so often in concerts, reviews and cabarets that it is hard for anyone to really make it their own. Another difficulty is it’s positioning in Follies, so soon after the brilliant display of talent in Who’s That Woman? Indeed one of the few awkward things about Follies is the book’s construction. In the musical comedies of the 1930’s and 40’s (such as: Anything Goes, and, Du Barry Was A Lady) the musical numbers, and the comedy dialog, were evenly spaced throughout the show. If a number or scene by one principal (such as Ethel Merman) looked like becoming a showstopper, than it would immediately be followed by something irrelevant, to bring the audience down to earth before the next principal came on. Follies is a complete contrast to all of this, although James Goldman and Stephen Sondheim, accomplished writers that they are, have almost certainly done this deliberately, the first half of the first act is almost a drama devoid of songs, the second half of the act is a surfeit of star turns one after another after another. There is no balance. This means that each principal has to work doubly hard to make his or her bit have an impact, and with performers such as Henry Goodman, Louise Gold, and, Joan Savage around this becomes very difficult indeed. The plus side of this is that because the book does not aide them, every performer is treated equitably and for those performers who really are outstanding their talent will triumph. It is just a bit unfair on those who aren’t quite as good, but hey that’s life. The act ends with Ben and Sally together, and one little inconsistency in this production’s script, Ben complains about Phyllis’s cold blue eyes (the actress playing her has sparkling brown eyes). The pair sing Too Many Mornings. They sang the song pleasantly, and it was nice to finally see it in context, but one is left to wonder: Are they drunk? Are they about to elope? Will we find out in the next act?


Act Two opens where the first act ended, with Ben and Sally together. Buddy enters, and finds them. Then Sally tells Buddy that Ben is going to marry her. Buddy does not believe this, but he is torn. Torn between Sally and his own bit on the side, Margie, The Right Girl.  Whatever Broadway thinks of this actor, we certainly had the right man for the number. Good old reliable Henry Goodman proved to be fantastic, singing and dancing like anything, and of course his diction is excellent too. The other notable point about this number is Tiffany Graves’s graceful dancing. This is followed by two of the old girls, Carlotta and Phyllis with Ben and a young waiter, they have been seducing in their arms (which reminded me a bit of Tanya and Pepper in Mamma Mia). Carlotta is having some difficulty explaining to Ben that it is only a fling. Phyllis is rather luckier in having found a Kevin, the young waiter (well portrayed by Matthew Attwell) who is used to playing around, she confides how she always wanted to have a son, and then complains that he is making her all wet, to which he hotly protests that she started it. Although it is Louise Gold’s scene, Matthew Attwell successfully manages not to get too overshadowed, so he will probably go far.


On with the plot, and a moment we’ve been building up to, Phyllis tells Ben she doesn’t want to go on living like this. Ben tells Phyllis his life with her is worthless. Her reaction is a surprise, Could I Leave You? This number has been done impressively many a time in concert and revue. Now it is Louise Gold’s opportunity to finally flash into action and make it all her own, which of course is exactly what she does, building up to a crescendo of anger and then ending surprisingly softly. It sounds like she is almost crying. Like a lot of Sondheim, this is a difficult song to sing clearly, but her diction (which is often her weak point) is nowhere near as bad as it has sometimes been, in any case it is an awful lot better than some of her co-performers in this production. She also seems to have to fight the orchestra a little, as they played too loudly and a touch too fast (she is not a natural fast tempo singer), but she is an experienced performer, and she manages to handle the situation. The really great thing about her performance is that although she has almost certainly been around performers such as David Kernan and Lorna Dallas, amongst others, when they’ve performed the number, she does it in her own way. For example, whereas most contemporary singers will sing the line “not to give those dinner’s for ten elderly men from the un” in a very flowing manner, with a pretty even emphasis on each word, Louise Gold is a refreshing change in that she sings it with very strong distinct emphasises on certain words, namely the rhymes, so that it comes out as “not to give those dinners for TEN ELderly MEN from the UN”. But then one of Louise Gold’s great assets, as a singer, is her ability to sing a number in a way that is completely independent of anyone else’s way of performing it, rather like an embroidery worker being independent of printed transfers and designs.


It is hard to follow a show stopping sort of performer, One More Kiss, Heidi’s number with her ghost failed to make much of an impression, although the singing by Julia Goss and Philippa Healy, and performance by Julia Goss and Pippa Raine was entirely satisfactory.  Ben is still being plagued by the ghosts, and here we have a reprise of Young Phyllis promising to study and educate herself. Whereupon all four members of the quartet ended up fighting with their respective ghosts, especially Phyllis, who seems to be trying to slap her’s, almost as if she is trying to show her ghost what is missing from her character. In the very last performance she actually grabbed her shoulders and shock her.


This is followed by another surprise, well it’s a surprise if you don’t know the plot, a sort of grand finale, albeit one that starts half way through the second act, Loveland. This features the eight members of the quartet, plus Margie. During the preceding scene the scene shifters had been busy moving the bits of staircase into position for this number, now the stage is set. First the Young girls set the scene, The Folly Of Loveland. Then the four Young stars enter for The Folly Of Youth. First up Hugh Maynard and Kerry Jay come into their own performing You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow. Then it is Matthew Carmelle and Emma Clifford’s turn with Love Will See Us, which is satisfactory. Of all the young performers, Kerry Jay and Matthew Carmelle have the toughest job do. Trying to play the young counterparts of two such uniquely brilliant actors as Louise Gold and Henry Goodman. In fact their task is almost impossible. They attack it very well, for which they should be praised. They have just about the hardest job in the entire production.


Now it’s good old reliable Henry Goodman’s turn again, this time with another Follies number that has become something of a classic Buddy’s Folly: The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me Blues. This number, especially thanks to Side By Side By Sondheim, has been given many incarnations, here it is in its original form. Henry Goodman is on sparkling form, and carries the entire number, I am afraid the young girls, Tiffany Graves and Emma Clifford were not as successful, mainly because they lack experience. Tiffany Graves was the better of the two, although her interpretation of the choreography seemed a little over the top, but that could be the direction. Emma Clifford simply doesn’t have the kind of amazing TV comedy experience (such as: TW3, and, The Muppet Show) that some of the number’s Side By Side By Sondheim incarnations (such as Millicent “Millie” Martin and Louise “Lulu” Gold) were lucky enough to get. But thanks to Henry Goodman’s sterling performance, what a wonderful performer he is, the number manages to go down pretty well.


Kathryn Evans’s turn comes with Sally’s Folly: Losing My Mind. In sharp contrast to her earlier performances she seems a trifle stiff, but perhaps that is no bad thing (one wouldn’t want her to overdo the madness). This is another often-performed song that it is again wonderful to have put back in context. It has worked very well in performed in Side By Side By Sondheim by a character who appears to be a bereaved widow. But its original context is that of a girl married to the wrong man, she loves a man married to someone else. Kathryn Evans an excellent singer-actress, gives the song everything it requires and brings it home.


As Kathryn exits we have the real surprise hit of the show, a rarely performed Sondheim gem, that somewhere along the line even got dropped from Follies. In the darkness someone steps out of the wings and turns to take their place. The stage lights up, immediately our attention is immediately drawn to the audience’s left, where on the front corner of the stage a stunningly costumed mature girl, holding a cane, is standing with her back to us. She gives a distinctive little wriggle with her bottom. Then Louise Gold turns to face us and launches into her piece de resistance Phyllis’s Folly: The Story Of Lucy And Jesse. It soon becomes apparent to the audience that Lucy and Jesse are pseudonyms for Sally and Phyllis. To be sitting here watching her do it is rather like watching the character Jerry Allan perform a really good number in the film Alexander’s Ragtime Band, only about ten times better, not least because of the dancing. Dressed in red and black show dress, and matching shoes (the right one is black and the left is red), Louise Gold looks absolutely amazing. Until now her beautiful svelte figure and wonderful legs had been hidden under a long evening dress. Now at last this 5ft9” tall stunning star really looks like a mature follies girl. The number suits her talents brilliantly. Musically it is just the sort of light Cole Porter or Irving Berlin type number she excels in performing. The kind of thing that in years gone by could have been well suited to Judy Garland or Ethel Merman. But we don’t need Garland or Merman, we’ve got the wonderful Louise Gold. However, it is not just her singing that is brilliant in this number, there is also her dancing. People often say “She doesn’t dance” and assume that she can’t. But boy can she dance. Given the right opportunity, she really can tap dance! For a lot of the time (most of the number) she is on stage alone, sometimes she is with her chorus, but standing magnificently tall among them, and handling her cane perfectly, halfway through though, on the stairs behind the chorus, she did that rifle-imitation with her cane, made famous in the film Top Hat (although it has appeared in other places), I think Louise Gold’s execution of it is one of the best I have seen, not least because she doesn’t over-do it. Louise Gold has a reputation for being an over-the-top performer, but in actual fact, when it matters, she is careful not to go too far. This song is rarely performed, even within Follies itself, perhaps partly because of the shear difficultly of finding an actress able to: Deliver a wise-cracking script, sing the more difficult Sondheim songs, and on top of that be of a sufficient standard as a dancer to actually do this brilliant number. However this production has truly struck on Gold for the task. But if you have a role for which you need to “Take an actress, take a singer, take a dancer” then this girl is certainly your answer. Now at last we finally see just what the extraordinary, endlessly exciting, woman underneath that Muppet Show bundle of talent, Annie Sue Pig, has become. At the number’s apparent conclusion there is good applause, and then a little encore, tucking her cane under one arm, Louise tap dances her way all across the stage, that she is so truly the mistress of. To my mind it is the highlight of the entire show.


The last of the quartet is Ben’s Folly: Live Laugh And Love. Phyllis, going off stage, sort of introduced it, initially by calling “Good luck big boy”, he needed it. Later in the run this changed to “It’s easy, all you have to do is remember the words” which worked slightly better, in that it was more in keeping with Louise Gold’s excellent portrayal of Phyllis verses David Durham’s Ben.  Although I am sure David Durham tried hard, his number doesn’t quite come off. The chief problem is that no one (except possibly Henry Goodman) could follow Louise Gold’s stunning performance. He winds up on the floor crying, for Phyllis. It is over, Sally is also crying, for Buddy. He is right there and takes her in his arms, ready to take her home. Ben is still crying for Phyllis “I’m right here” she says, with real warmth in her voice, and kneels down beside him. One of Louise Gold’s outstanding qualities as an actress is that she can portray a woman who is outwardly a rich superbitch, but who deep down possesses humanity and a warm heart of gold. It is not an ability that very many actresses have (Anna Chancellor and probably Louise Plowright are among the few I can think of who can do this), although there are many roles for older woman (such as: Gussie Carnigie in Merrily We Role Along, Tanya in Mamma Mia and of course Phyllis Rogers Stone in Follies) that require it. Ben is helped to his feet by Phyllis’s strong left hand. Thus we come to Follies’s rather surprising ending. Ben and Sally depart with their respective spouses, and the four young ghosts can finally gather round and extinguish the light. Now all that is left is the bows, and an encore of Beautiful Girls, danced by the older girls. For much of this number they parade with their arms above their heads, as though they were holding up Follies-style headdresses or some such. Louise Gold is the only one of them who is really convincing, which is hardly surprising given that she is the only one with the requisite muscle memory (although in her case that is from grappling with puppets rather than headdresses).


In terms of design there are some elements of this production which do not seem to have gone down terribly well with the audience, thus some observations are perhaps necessary. The set although to some eyes a little over the top, in terms of bits of scaffolding and plastic all over the stage, and jutting out into the auditorium, to give the image of the interior of a run down theatre was quite impressive, regardless of whether one actually liked it, personally I did not mind it. However, I felt that, except for Loveland, it was poorly lit. Admittedly the poor lighting was part of the design, to give it the image of being rundown, with very little lighting, but well this is a show, so personally I would have liked to see the stage lit up more often. That said, there are some instances, when two pairs of characters are speaking in a scene independently when suitable lighting effects, such as turning the spotlights only on whichever pair is speaking at that moment, is appropriate. As far as costumes were concerned, the young chorus girls were impressively dressed in glittering Follies-style costumes. The men were dressed just fine throughout.  But when it comes to the costumes for the old-girls I do have some reservations. Kathryn Evans, Joan Savage and Myra Sands seem to have the best cut outfits. The evening dress worn by Louise Gold is alright, because fortunately she is the sort of woman who looks good in quite a variety of costumes (including some that would not look very good on a less good-looking actress). As for the rest of the old girls the costumes were not exactly flattering (but perhaps they were not meant to be?). The least satisfactory element of the production is the sound. The orchestra is in a pit in front of the stage, and frequently tries to drown the singers. When a singer as powerful as Louise Gold ends up fighting the orchestra, then there is definitely something wrong with the sound balance.


Overall it is an excellent production, one well worth witnessing. Obviously some turns are better than others, although it is worth seeing for the restored and stunningly performed, Phyllis’s Folly: The Story Of Lucy And Jesse alone! Some people have complained that the production does not contain a stellar cast, as promised. In fact the production is not without performers of note. They may not necessarily be the hugest names in the business, but if you look under the surface they have solid reputations as real troupers. For example Paul Bentley was an Oliver nominee for his role of Captain Corcoran in HMS Pinafore. Many of the performers do have a variety of numerous West End credits, including one original Cats cast member and three or four from that show’s final year. Several of the cast (for example: Louise Gold, Julia Goss, and, Myra Sands) also have notable solo cabaret acts. In addition: Diane Langton, Kathryn Evans, Myra Sands, Louise Gold and Henry Goodman are all long established West End and British regional performers; who have appeared in many many shows, sometimes in quite important roles, and also on various cast album recordings. It is perhaps particularly worth noting here, that Kathryn Evans and Louise Gold have both had significant success in productions at The Leicester Haymarket Theatre. In addition Louise Gold and Myra Sands in particular are among the established stars of Ian Marshall-Fisher’s Lost Musicals, which Kathryn Evans and Henry Goodman have also appeared in. In addition to being the original Gumbie Cat in Cats, and being a not insignificant member of the National’s rep company (especially in The Villain’s Opera) Myra Sands is also notable for the number of major West End understudy roles she has undertaken, and that includes understudying such actresses as: Judi Dench, Elaine Paige, and, Sheila Hancock. Perhaps the most clearly recognised name in the cast is that of good old reliable Henry Goodman. Quite apart from his recent headlining attempt to venture onto Broadway, he has a wealth of acclaimed West End and British radio credits, and won an Olivier award for his performance in the original London production of Assassins (the most major production of that show there has ever actually been). His acting ability is such that he is able to lead a show no matter who he is appearing with (be they ineffective actors to be carried, or scene stealers to be suppressed), I can only think of two other actors I have seen (namely Millicent Martin and Louise Plowright) who are quite as effective as he is in that respect. And then there’s the extraordinary Louise Gold, one of those performers whom surely everybody’s seen on TV, without always realising it. In addition to her many West End and regional credits, sometimes as a leading lady sometimes as a co-star, and her various TV cameo appearances as an actress, she is also an accomplished puppeteer, with three major TV puppet shows among her credits, and for the past twenty five years she has been recognised among puppetry enthusiasts as a member of the most famous group of puppeteers in the world, The Muppets, where she was in fact one of the eight main puppeteers on The Muppet Show. However, if one still considers that the star names are not very big, then that has the positive effect of making one focus on the story rather than the turns, and it means that each performer gets a fair chance to make his or her part shine, depending entirely on their skill and talent, not on what is expected of them. Three performers who I would really highlight in this respect are Joan Savage, Henry Goodman, and, Louise Gold, all of whom achieve genuine star turns, regardless of whether they are so called names. I for one will happily settle for watching Louise Gold’s stunning tour de force Phyllis’s Folly: The Story Of Lucy And Jesse. She really is something. As far as I am concerned that is a star turn alright!



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