A star-studded cast last night opened Follies in Concert in the beautiful Melbourne Recital Centre. This concert production was the first professional production for Storeyboard Entertainment, a benchmark now set for many great things to come!
The choice to stage this as a concert works perfectly to bring this work to life. The story follows a reunion of retired performers who return to the theatre they once worked before it is torn down. The action plays out on an open and undressed stage, complete with an orchestra of 24 under the tight musical direction of Stephen Gray. The cast moved the piece complete with fully choreographed musical numbers by Kelly Aykers. Director Tyran Parke has moved the piece thoughtfully and the musical numbers are where this production finds its strengths.
Leading the cast are some of the industry’s finest. Philip Quast, Anne Wood, David Hobson and Lisa McCune play the two leading couples whose barren marriages make for much of the story’s narrative.
Quast is robust, torn, and despite his emotional bankruptcy and womanising, gains our empathy as Benjamin Stone. As his wife, Wood is cynical, chilling and wonderfully biting as Phyllis Rogers Stone. Both have poignant moments including the numbers ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ and ‘Chaos’ by the end of which, Quast crumbles into raw emotion; and ‘The Story of Lucy and Jessie’ where Wood exemplifies why she’s a force to be reckoned with. Her ‘Could I Leave You?’ Is also a highlight.
Hobson provides a genuine and believable Buddy Plumber. He attacks his moments with conviction and gusto, especially in ‘The Right Girl’. McCune is elegant and poised as she navigates Sally Durant Plumber’s feelings between her leading men. While she seems comfortable on the stage, there is a slight lack of confidence and emotional connection in her delivery.
Lachlan Graham, Jenni Little, Rowan Witt and Sophie Wright play younger versions of Ben, Phyllis, Buddy and Sally respectively. All four deliver strong, mature performances with lovely bright singing tones that contrast their older selves.
David Rogers-Smith opens the show with aplomb as Roscoe. His high tenor range is majestic and reverberates through the hall in both acts. Queenie van de Zant expertly adds her comedic flair to the role of Stella Deems. Both are true highlights of this production. Robert Grubb is the consummate professional as the parting theatre owner, Dimitri Weismann.
Nancy Hayes brings the house down as Hattie Walker. The veteran still has it and she had every single audience member eating out of the palm of her hand. It was fantastic to note the utmost respect for her in the room as indicated by the audience applause.
Debra Byrne lets her inner diva shine as the unapologetically proud Carlotta Campion. Her turn at ‘I’m still here’ is riveting as it is poignant on many levels, providing one of this production’s most special moments.
Australian entertainment legends and real-life couple Bert and Patty Newton are briefly charming as on-stage stalwart couple, Theodore and Emily Whitman, but the roles are hardly big enough for the crowd favourite duo.
Operatic singer Margaret Haggard plays Heidi Schiller, and provides an angelic ‘One More Kiss’, a duet with the younger version of the character played by Madeleine Featherby. Featherby is one to watch, and her voice is glorious.
Natalie Gamsu plays the sensual French Solange Lafitte while Katie Kermond is cheeky and fun as Dee Dee.
The ensemble are made up of some of the industry’s finest up and coming triple threats with Matt Holly, Caleb Vines, Nicholas Kyriacou, Katrina Bicketon, Zoe Coppinger, Ashleigh Marie Hauschild, Imogen Moore and Monica Swayne. Daniel Assetta is a standout with every energetic movement and has charisma in spades. Playing various roles throughout, these rising stars help move the action while adding a touch of tradition.
Parke writes in the program forward that with a “primary objective being clarity of narrative and depth of character” he wanted the actors to carry scripts to “enable these remarkable actors to fully invest in the piece, unencumbered by the brief ten-day rehearsal period”. I would however say that this fell short of the desired effect. Some of the performers clearly relied on their scripts more than others, but in some cases the presence of scripts was visibly redundant. The scripts were choreographed in and out of the action, but at times created for some clumsy or unnecessary exchanges. First and foremost though, I felt the presence of these scripts undermined the calibre of the finely assembled performers, reducing their scene work to scripted readings and providing barriers to creating genuine connections with fellow cast members. Parke recently directed Crossroads, a new Australian musical which featured some of the most heartbreakingly genuine connections and chemistry I’ve seen on stage, so this felt like an odd choice. The only other issue for me was the sound balance, which hopefully improves following this opening night.
Follies in Concert is a real treat and with only one more performance in the limited season, I’d suggest you get there tonight! Tickets are available through Melbourne Recital Centre http://www.melbournerecital.com.au/