Review: Follies; BLOS

Burnley Light Opera Society staging Stephen Sondheims Broadway musical, Follies, at The Burnley Mechanics. (s)
Burnley Light Opera Society staging Stephen Sondheims Broadway musical, Follies, at The Burnley Mechanics. (s)

Burnley Light Opera Society beautifully orchestrated on the opening night a Broadway tale of ghosts and broken dreams to professional standards.

Stephen Sondheim’s musical, Follies, first produced in 1971, depicts a reunion of The Weismann’s Follies as they reminisce in their old theatre on the eve of its demolition.


The tale examines the death of the American dream, honing in on couples Buddy and Sally and Benjamin and Phyllis, whose marriages are rocked by infidelity, unfulfilled love and emotional abandonment.


There is no faulting the presentation of the show. It had it all: tight harmonies; powerful vocals; comic punches; on-point accents; and vibrant acting.


The first act bubbled and fizzed in all its glamour, spreading warmth like a glass of Prosecco. However, I found the character development somewhat diluted by too much song and dance.


But then came the second act, piercing through that glamorous facade of happiness, revealing the caverns of emptiness surrounding the characters. Eeriness began to bleed into the cheer - the kind, in its saccharine falseness, accentuating the dark realities, depths and complexities of the protagonists. It swung an emotional blow.


While their vocal prowess cannot be applauded enough, this is when the leading cast really came into their own in terms of character portrayal.


Joanne Gill was fabulous as Phyllis, serving up a striking and nuanced leading lady for all her emotional depth, breadth and intricacy.


David Gill did a terrific job of depicting Ben, a self-absorbed politician. His vast insight into the mentality of the man allowed for an intriguing portrayal.


The same can be said for David Norris’ depiction of Buddy, a travelling salesman having an affair on the road. If only the musical placed more of a spotlight on them, given they offered huge potential to drive the plot in a number of gripping directions.


Vicki Clarkson whipped up a vivacious spirit as Sally. Throughout her vocals were simply stunning. Again, after the interval, she revealed curious pools of complexity.


Offering excellent support as the couples’ younger selves were: Jenny Gill (Sally); David Barrett (Ben); Peter Rigney (Buddy); and Laura Chadwick (Phyllis).


The entire supporting cast must be applauded for strong solo vocals and tight harmonies: Sarah Farragher (Heidi); Megan Ingham (young Heidi); Jackie Catlow (Stella), Zoe Tompkins (young Stella); Sue Avanson (Solange), Anne Whittaker (young Solange); Ann Mason (Carlotta); Jessica Whittaker (young Carlotta); Lesley Jackson (Hattie), Charlotte Norris (young Hattie); Debbie Stopforth (DeeDee West); Leanne Bradshaw (young DeeDee West); Karen Huyton (Christine), Bethany Whittaker (young Christine); Anne Baron (Emily), Geoff Baron (Theodore); Martin Chadwick (Weismann); David Slater (Roscoe/Max); and Paul Jackson, Peter Dilworth, John Huyton, Robin Reid, Sarah Hayhurst, Noelle Ripley, Linda Southam and Alan Whittaker (waiters/ensemble).


Praise must also go to the band, set and lighting designers and the production team: Musical Director Steven Mercer; Director and Choreographer Anthony Williams; and Jonathan Tunie for superb orchestration.


This amateur society gave a dazzling performance, coloured with all the elements of the professionals but at a more affordable price and having the convenience of being in our own town centre theatre.


The only faults to be found are with the story itself: slow to mature in the first act, it left much of its potential for interesting character development unrealised.


But then again, this did make for an all the more piercing second half and the flecks of darkness left a curiosity about the fate of the couples after the final curtains had closed.


It is just a matter of preference. And if you love classic musicals then you’ll be blown away by the society’s latest offering, presented with remarkable vibrancy. For certain, you’d struggle to find a grander production in the area than Follies at The Burnley Mechanics this week.


Final performances take place tonight and tomorrow, both starting at 7-30pm.


Tickets are £16 and subject to a £2 booking fee if purchased online.


To book please call 01282 664400 or visit www.burnleymechanics.co.uk