Not so much Follies but a triumph

Follies, book by James Goldman, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, at the New Wolsey until Saturday.Oh, how Sondheim makes you think! He entertains you like mad and sends you out into the night singing but he also gets the little grey cells going because he paints his people so brightly.

David Henshall

Follies, book by James Goldman, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, at the New Wolsey until Saturday.

Oh, how Sondheim makes you think! He entertains you like mad and sends you out into the night singing but he also gets the little grey cells going because he paints his people so brightly.

This is one of his best, tumbling with memorable numbers, and Gallery Players' staging of it is probably their most ambitious and certainly their most spectacular show yet. It tests every iota of the group's talents and is nothing short of a sophisticated rollicking triumph.

It's a piece that demands a large cast of young and not-so-young actors, all of whom must be able to sing well - and Sondheim's music is often not as simple as it can be made to sound. Director Pat Taplin has found that rare collection - and even plays one of the 'old girls' herself.

The old girls and some of the men are former members of the famous Weisman Follies partying together for the first time in 30 years in their old theatre before it is pulled down And the action is wrapped round the stories of two couples who met in the Follies and whose marriages are now teetering on the edge of disaster.

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As Sally and Buddy, Phyllis and Ben nag and bitch, they mix with old friends who one by one step back into the limelight to perform, highlighting Sondheim's brilliance as the lyrics let us into old secrets, new desires and a few shattered dreams. With every line of every verse we learn something new about somebody.

Sally thinks she took second best with Buddy, has been in love with Ben's memory for all those married years and is now determined to fan the old flames. Buddy, now a salesman, is having an affair with a girl on his travels and Ben is so self-absorbed that Phyllis feels bitter and lost.

As they argue, 'ghosts' of all their younger selves act out and sing their roles from 30 years before, sometimes working together. It's all very effective and surprisingly slick and some of the other old girls have showstoppers of their own.

Brenda Caddick as Hattie does a beautiful and belty Broadway Baby and Sheila Garnham's Carlotta brings the house down with I'm Still Here, a wry and saucy, sad and optimistic look at a life fully lived. And the old girls can still cut the mustard on the dance floor. Margaret Mudd's Stella leads them in a cracking Who's That Woman that gets the audience's toes tapping as hard as theirs.

As Sally, Stephanie Brown's Losing My Mind is very poignant and James Hayward does a terrific Buddy's Blues; Shelley Clempson's Could I Leave You as Phyllis is a delicious bit of biting bile and as Ben, Martin Leigh is especially good in The Road You didn't Take.

This is a show full of lovely songs and magic moments, lots of leggy Follies girls, a great orchestra and many talented people there isn't room to mention here . I simply urge show-lovers not to miss this good thing.

David Henshall.

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