16 May 2008

The Secombe Theatre, Sutton

Stephen Macvicar

Thank you very much for inviting me to Wimbledon Light Opera Society’s production of Stephen Sondheim “Follies” recently at The Secombe Theatre. Thanks also to Dianne Norton for making the ticket arrangements.

Brief Synopsis

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be!

The plot of the musical centres around a reunion of showgirls who appeared in an annual Follies extravaganza when it was staged between the wars. Sally and Phyllis are two of these former showgirls, now middle-aged. Sally is married to Buddy and Phyllis is married to Ben. Sally is unhappy with Buddy and still is madly in love with Ben after a brief affair they had when they were younger. Phyllis is going to divorce Ben, so all seems right. But the reason Phyllis is divorcing Ben is because he is incapable of showing real, genuine love. Will Sally truly be happy if she leaves Buddy and marries Ben? Not the greatest of plots but the songs are wonderful. The show features frequent “pastiche numbers” in which other former showgirls perform numbers in the style of the period in which this Follies was staged.

Overview (for NODA London Magazine)

I was delighted to see WLOS move away albeit temporarily from the standard musical repertoire and dabble in some Sondheim. This was certainly one for the ladies and from that point of view it was an excellent choice. It gave a chance for some of the ladies who have seen a bit of life a chance to take centre stage and they grabbed it. Some performers were more natural than others but all in all this was a positive production

When I arrived at The Secombe Theatre I didn’t really know what to expect. As mentioned in my overview, this was a change of style for WLOS in terms of choice of show and I wondered how they would cope with a Sondheim musical. I have to say, I needn’t have worried as the society rose to the challenge. If you are going to choose a Sondheim show, I guess this is the ideal choice for WLOS. The cast of characters is largely made up of experienced ladies and this gave some society stalwarts their chance to shine centre stage under the spotlight. It was really good to see. It was also nice to see a collection of younger performers giving there all as the lead principals in their youth. The younger characters of the cast complemented their older alter egos and the rest of the ensemble. The girls in particular beamed in the reflective ‘Who’s That Woman’ number. The society has a nice balance of age ranges at the moment and long may this continue with the society growing in esteem.

My overall impression of the show was positive. Some thought had gone into Becky Channon’s set with the scaffolding throughout the Weismann Theatre taking up the bulk of the rear playing space. The white syc, glitter and net curtains came in and out as necessary leaving the mandatory set of stairs at the centre rear. Sondheim does put the emphasis on characters and dialogue more than most writers of musicals and there was the odd scene, in particular the overcrowded party scene with the revellers mingling, which was inclined to drag a touch. That is, however, the fault of the show and not the production or the society. It is a tough show to pull off. The production numbers tend to be showstoppers yet there are long periods of indulgent dialogue which is not punchy enough for all theatregoers. The productions numbers were entertaining and glamorous. None more so than in the catchy, ‘God Why Don’t You Love Me Blues’ dressed in the purple and reds and especially in the dreamy ‘Loveland’. In this number all the ladies looked beautiful in their full length pink dresses portraying their characters as eternally young and beautiful whilst the intrepid men were resplendent in their white attire.

There appeared to be no egos and everyone was pulling in the same direction which is the recipe for a good show. At the helm was Matthew McDowall as Director and Holly Stout as Musical Director and conducting her fourteen piece orchestra. Congratulations to both and to Keren Pullinger whose Choreography was light, bright and easy on the eye.

Technically, the show was extremely sound. Your Lighting and Sound Designers and Operators all appear to take their work very seriously and it showed. There was the odd place where a personal microphone cut out, ‘I’m Still Here’ for example but it didn’t spoil the enjoyment and it was a complicated show to plot the sound for. The costumes were excellent and suitably lavish where required. Credit for this must go to the Wardrobe Team who obviously must pride themselves on remarkable attention to detail.

There are too many named principals to comment on individually and this was a true ensemble production but I have written a few notes on some of the lead principals who all had challenging parts;

Buddy Plummer – Seumas Grey – Seumas reminded me a bit of James Cagney in this role. It is no mean feat to play a role of this dimension and I thought Seumas handled it well. His confidence is growing as he gets more experienced.

Sally Plummer – Linda Pullinger – A nice relaxed performance from Linda as the girlish Sally and she really suited the sky blue dress. I enjoyed Linda’s rendition of ‘In Buddy’s Eyes’.

Ben Stone – David Ballard – David slotted in well to the role of the successful Ben. In ‘Live, Love and Laugh’ the inner turmoil came through and we were treated to a nice rendition of ‘Too Many Mornings’.

Phyllis Stone – Susan Sworn –. Similar to the other three older leads, Susan had a lot of poignant dialogue and delivered it well. Susan possesses a strong stage presence.

Young Buddy – Michael D’Ambrosio – Michael is definite leading man material as he sings, acts and dances pretty well. I look forward to future roles.

Young Sally – Marion Hayter – Marion is very engaging on stage and possesses all the necessary qualities to play Young Sally – an honest face and a winning smile.

Young Ben – Adam Phillips – This was a good role for Adam building on his previous successful performances. The ‘You’re Gonna Love Me Tomorrow’ number with Phyllis was terrific.

Young Phyllis – Elizabeth Burton – Similar to Marion, Elizabeth has a pleasant stage persona and I enjoyed her performance. All four of the youngsters worked well as a team.

Dimitri Weismann – Al Clogston – A smaller part than Al is mostly accustomed to larger parts but nonetheless he still made his presence felt at the opening end of the show.

Carlotta Campion – Dianne Norton – Dianne excelled as the born survivor Carlotta. Dianne looking rather grand in her gold dress was very natural in her portrayal. It was a great rendition of ‘I’m Still Here’.

Solange La Fitte – Bel Gibbs – Bel possesses a quiet voice on stage yet her presence was captivating. Bel shone and was a picture in her black dress as the French performer.

Hattie Walker – JocelynWilson – Jocelyn was very flirty as the girl with the past. I loved her rendition of ‘Broadway Baby’. A real crowd pleaser.

Heidi Schiller – Margaret Etches – Bravo to Margaret – lovely!

There were some lovely cameos amongst the ensemble and indeed some lovely voices coming through to back up your main principals. Hopefully your younger members will have gained greatly from this experience and caught the bug.

The A4 souvenir programme had an excellent layout and there was plenty of interesting society reading to be done. Short biogs and especially photographs are always very welcome as it shows the relevant experience and growth of performers.

Once again thank you for inviting me to The Secombe Theatre and best wishes for your next production “Die Fledermaus”.

I look forward to seeing you again soon and if I can be of any assistance at any time, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Kindest Regards

Stephen Macvicar



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