Live, Love, Laugh

The following article was first published in the October 2018 edition of Viva Lewes magazine:

When it opened in 1971, Stephen Sondheim’s musical Follies was a contemporary tale set in a dilapidated New York theatre. “A lot of the context is very topical for that time”, says Thomas Hackett, who’s directing a version for LOS Musical Theatre in Lewes this month. “We’re setting it when it was written. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” We’ve found a quiet spot for a chat during rehearsals by squeezing into the costume store, which seems particularly appropriate for a story about theatrical lives. “It’s about growing up and looking back at your younger self. Your course may have changed but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong”. Before the fictional theatre closes forever, former members of Weismann’s Follies reunite on stage for one last time. “They were showgirls, they’re proper performers”, says Thomas. This, he tells me with a smile, is why he’s working with choreographer Star Bray. “I need someone who knows what they’re doing, not just to wing it myself!”

Fortunately there’s space in the storeroom for all three of us. “We both wanted to keep the choreography as part of the story, rather than the singing and the dancing being separate”, explains Star. “The music is beautiful. You have the opportunity for Charleston, for 1940s close-hold jive, for Shim Sham, and we’ve got elements of Fosse as well. There are plenty of different dance styles to play around with, which has been fun”.

“We’ve been incredibly blessed with the amount of talent that has rocked up”, Thomas adds. “We have this plethora of leading ladies with so many credits to their name – here, Brighton, Eastbourne – and they’ve brought all that talent. Every time something happens on stage, it’s a highlight.” Not only is the show packed with performers, it’s also packed with Sondheim songs. “When he wrote it, it was an homage to Rodgers and Hammerstein, to Oscar Straus… Obviously ‘Losing My Mind’ is the big torch song, ‘I’m Still Here’ is another big number but, as a piece, it’s really hard to break it down. I look on it very much as a whole.”

Although Thomas has kept the show rooted in the 1970s, he’s made one change from the Broadway production. “We’re breaking for an interval. When Sondheim originally wrote it, he didn’t want one but an interval was subsequently put in the script. It’s a long time to sit and hold focus. And there’s a social side as well; having a chat at the bar is part of an evening out.” As I emerge from the costume store, I ask the director what message he has for those sociable theatregoers of Lewes. “More than anything, if you don’t know it, you need to see it.” To which his choreographer adds “And if you have seen it and you do know it, then you’ll want to see it again”.

Follies runs from Wednesday 3rd until Saturday 6th October 2018 at Lewes Town Hall. Tickets via losmusicaltheatre.org.uk