The phrase star-studded cast is often thrown around when shows are being promoted, but in the case of Follies, the only other way to describe this exceptional cast would be “legend-studded”.
The cast list reads like a who’s-who of Australian musical theatre. Starring alongside Anne Wood are David Hobson, Lisa McCune, Nancye Hayes, Philip Quast, Debra Byrne, Bert and Patti Newton, Queenie van de Zandt, David Rogers Smith and Robert Grubb … and that’s only some of the cast.
“I’m thrilled to be in the same room with them all!” exclaimed Anne Wood. “There’s quite a few I’ve worked with before, but a lot of people I haven’t. I’m very excited to be spending time with them.”
Follies is an opportunity for Wood to work alongside Philip Quast, who will be playing her on-stage husband.
It also allows Anne Wood to work with her hero: Debra Byrne.
“When I was a young thing, Deb Byrne was my hero. I just adored everything she did. She was one of the first ever records I bought as a teenager, so whenever I’m in the room with her I’m just thrilled to bits!”
Anne Wood already knows this work by Stephen Sondheim very well. She was part of the cast of Follies by The Production Company back in 2008.
“That experience was amazing. It was a big cast, but everyone who wasn’t on stage was lined up in the wings watching. That doesn’t happen very often. All the ensemble, when they weren’t busting a gut in the big song and dance numbers, were lined up watching. It’s that sort of show,” Wood explained.
“It’s a funny show. It really lends itself to the concert medium,” said Wood. “It’s really a slice of life sort of show. It’s about one evening, so it makes sense it can almost happen in real time. And it just has show-stopping number after show-stopping number.”
The challenge for any performer doing a work by Stephen Sondheim is learning the lyrics. Wood learns the words by writing them out on paper and then putting the paper in strategic places, such as in the car to look at when stopped at lights. Any tricky phrases she puts on the bathroom mirror.
“Anyone visiting my home tends to learn the lines I’m having trouble learning!” laughed Wood.
Her aim is to learn the lyrics as quickly as possible, then run through them in her head each morning as she wakes up and each night as she goes to bed.
“Sondheim writes really interesting, layered characters that are really pertinent to all of us in everyday life,” commented Wood. “Everyone’s chomping at the bit to get their teeth into some Sondheim and this is one of the pinnacles of his work.”
Knowing that there are just three performances of Follies requires a different approach than preparing for a long season. Wood said the key to the short rehearsal period is to know the material as well as you can, but also be open to change at any moment. She also said it’s important not to freak out about the short rehearsal period and the pressure that brings. Wood wants to be able to enjoy the performances of her co-stars during this short time together.
“For some people it is a chance to do that one number and they might not have anything else to do through the whole show. Like Deb Byrne’s classic ‘I’m Still Here’ – who wouldn’t want to see that? I’ll be watching from the wings!” laughed Wood.
Anne Wood believes Follies is a show for all ages.
“Everyday we are dealing with the intricacies of the beauty and the pain of relationships in our lives. That, to me, is what Follies is about. Follies is for everyone: anyone who has a respect for, or is interested in, the power of music theatre. This is music theatre at it’s most powerful and its most relevant.”
Follies in Concert plays for just three performances on Tuesday 24th and Wednesday 25th May at the Melbourne Recital Centre. You’re not likely to see these stars all come together in the one show again.