Walterdale Theatre’s production of Follies, the 1971 Sondheim musical, opens tonight. I was able to see a preview last night, and I found it touching, sometimes sad, and sometimes so funny that I couldn’t stop giggling. As suits a show about retired showgirls, it has interesting music (under the direction of Michael Clark) a large ensemble cast, production dance numbers (choreography by Barb Mah and Alyssa Paterson), sparkly festive costumes with headpieces (Karin Lauderdale), and some beautiful solos.
The premise of the show seemed not unusual to me, the idea of middle-aged former performers reuniting before an old theatre is torn down, and reminiscing about past life. What seemed more original about this story is the concept of the characters having shadows or ghosts or echoes of their former selves, living their 1941 lives around and in between the returnees living their 1971 lives. In 1941, there were eight showgirls and a couple of young sailors, each identified as the earlier self of one of the 1971 characters. As the reunion visitors catch up with each other about their lives and play out current conflicts, we see the shadows of their past selves dancing and singing and speaking about their dreams and romances and ambitions in 1941.
I can’t readily say what was my favourite part of this show. I loved the song “Who’s That Woman”, led by Stella (Joyanne Rudiak), in which the 1971 women make it look hard to reproduce a tap number of their youth, blended with the 1941 women making it look easy. I loved how the blue-grey playsuits of the 1941 dancers and the cold blue-tinged lighting (Brad Melrose) showed them to be memories, while the warmer palettes for the 1971 characters were often present at the same time. I laughed hard at the over-the-top costumes for the fantasy sequences starting with “Loveland”. I was moved by Carlotta Campion’s (Kristen M Finlay’s) triumphant solo about her existence and persistence, “I’m Still Here”. And I was deeply disconcerted watching Ben’s (Gavin Belik’s) brash confidence in “Live, Laugh, Love” gradually crumble into a complete breakdown, while the spirits of chorus dancers flutter gaily around him as if nothing is wrong or he is a figure of fun. Leslie Caffaro is a strong actor in the lead role of Sally and Aaron Schaan has an amusing cameo as Kevin the Waiter.
Same-day tickets are available at the door, and advance tickets through Tix on the Square. Follies plays until Saturday July 15th.
Last week the Edmonton theatre community celebrated the 2016-2017 season at the Sterling Awards Gala. Productions taking home multiple awards included the Citadel’s Crazy for You, Edmonton Actors’ Theatre’s Stupid Fucking Bird, Theatre Network’s Irma Voth, and Impossible Mongoose’s The Fall of the House of Atreus: A Cowboy Love Story. But as usual, the night reminded me of the wide breadth of talents and passions and visions in the Edmonton theatre scene, amateur as well as professional, and I look forward to watching and discussing many more delightful and challenging performances in the future. As usual at the Sterlings, the script was entertaining and the tech and stage-management invisible, making the evening go quickly and amusingly.
After Found Festival was over, I was still thinking about some of the productions I’d seen, and wanted to make some additional notes.
In the Admit One show In Shoes, the viewer is guided on a quick walk around a popular block of Old Strathcona, encountering various characters who all connect in ways that become clear. Although I had seen all the performers in other roles in the past, I was never aware of any of them until the moment at which they figuratively stepped on stage to take over from the previous actor. It was as if they were non-playing characters on Whyte Avenue, part of the streetscape, until that moment. This fascinated me. It reminded me of the TV show Being Erica, and how Erica often encountered the therapist Dr. Tom on the street, appearing as a hot dog vendor or bartender or pedestrian just as she needed him. It also reminded me of some video game – I don’t know if it’s World of Warcraft or if it’s a common custom – where everything in the environment that the player can interact with has a sort of halo outline that’s lacking in other parts of the background.
On the last day of Found Festival, I was able to attend a performance of Before The River, a roving performance along the pathways by Mill Creek. Colin Matty, Shannon Hunt, Katrusia Pohoreski, Jameela McNeil, and Liam Coady performed an eerie folkloric tale from Ukrainian tradition.
And now it’s summer! Time for Freewill Shakespeare and the rest of the summer festivals and looking forward to Fringe. Enjoy!