Geoff Ambler continues his Fly-on-the-wall’s eye view of the Follies Rehearsals at the Royal Theatre, Northampton . . . he has two more weeks to go.
His observations are in three parts. They are all held in the Features area of Reviewsgate.com; a unique record of a rehearsal process.Day 13 – Who’s That Woman and following scenes.
Tonight there seems more energy when the cast reassemble in the rehearsal studio. Certainly everyone is more upbeat than the previous Monday even when Nick surprises them with yet more tap sequences for Who’s That Woman. Just when they thought they’d had the whole set together, however at least now they can work through the amazing number from “Hit it, baby” to “Mirror!” Tonight, after a couple of complete runs through they breathlessly decide to time it.
Eight minutes later Nick declares that Jonathan is playing it too slowly as it’s only seven minutes on the CD. He’s not. It’s magnificent and the girls seem to both enjoy and dread it, although it’s mainly the younger girls who enjoy it. Louise has even named one of the steps “The horrible step”. That name stays with it although from my (seated) vantage point it doesn’t look nearly as complex as some of the other spectacles they perform.
While some of the girls rehearse with a look of intense concentration (and occasional pain) others rehearse with a smile, however the ever wonderful Laura Pitt-Pulford seems to be always laughing about something while dancing. I can’t wait to see if she still does that “on the night.” When I arrived she was being advised that she had her wig fitting scheduled for the end of the week. Upon finding out that she was the only one wearing a wig she immediately wailed “They think I have crap hair, it’s because I’m ginger!” That’ll teach her for naming me Mr. Blog. She does however have beautiful hair and it’s probably more to do with playing the younger version of two characters that causes the wig requirements than bad hair.
Day 14 – Act One – Full Company
Tonight the plan is to run through all of Act One. I have only seen individual scenes out of sequence so far so I’m expecting big things. I am not disappointed. Before they start a few transitions are worked over to allow smooth changes between the separate scenes that have only been rehearsed so far without the community cast. Nick and his dancers sit off to one side of the room amusing themselves, eating everything they can find, having bubble gum blowing competitions and eventually “who can do the most leg raises”. Pippa loses, due to laughing too much.
Laurie instructs the cast that as of tonight there will be no more fake talking. So if you are sitting near the front of the theatre you should be able to pick up some interesting improvised conversations. I certainly did during the rehearsals although some times it was of the order of “What shall I say?” and “I don’t know, you start”. Listen out for “Isn’t the guy on the piano a dish!” It wasn’t prompted at all.
Subtle changes appear all through the act, Alex’s Buddy now drops his case on the stage to end the “Hey up there” freeze moment following his entrance. He tells the same joke for the hundredth time, I laugh for the hundredth time. The scenes segue with little intervention required from Laurie, Andrew and Nick and I’m enthralled, entertained and occasionally moved, however the best is yet to come. The Ben and Sally moments always stand out. This pair impresses in the rehearsal room every time they perform but it is the last scene that knocks me sideways. I’m so moved I dictate this to my recorder on the drive home while listening to Too Many Mornings again on CD. I also did something I have avoided doing for weeks and become a fan, telling Savannah how great she was in that last scene. There goes any cool I had.
“No set, no costumes, no make-up, no orchestra, just the ever brilliant Jonathan Gill on the piano, two Sally’s and a Ben standing in front of the full cast and creatives at the end of the first run through of Act one and they produced some of the best theatre I have ever witnessed. Such was their performance I was transported to a derelict theatre in New York, decades ago, completely forgetting that I was watching a rehearsal. Savannah Stevenson, as the young Sally, gives a completely mesmerizing performance, hardly saying a word. With Jan Hartley and Julian Forsyth’s stirring and emotive duet going on around her, the emotion displayed on Savannah’s face, the look in her eyes throughout the number is just captivating. That is young love. That is love untainted by the pain that her older self knows only too well. In the last moments of the first act I watched Savannah and Julian together with Jan’s older Sally looking on, remembering. As a scene it is theatrical perfection. It is a scene that wins shows awards and it leaves you going into the interval with your pulse racing and your head swimming and ice cream the furthest thing from your mind.”
I went home and bought more Follies tickets.
There are so many great performances in this show, there are many just in the first act, it seems unfair to single one out but it’s there and it’s brilliant and I don’t think I’ll forget that cold evening in Northampton with a bunch of great performers and a bunch of great performances and that feeling of being enlivened on the way home. I can’t wait to see Act Two but I have to wait until next week for that!
Day 15 – Live, Laugh, Love and Who’s That Woman
Seeing Live, Laugh, Love for the first time was a new experience. The dancers I know so well from “the Mirror Number” get to play with the boys tonight, complete with top hats and canes, resulting in a few near misses for Pippa. She manages to avoid concussion every time and comes through the evening unscathed. It helps being a nimble, lithe dancer when sticks fly by your head while you are following Nicks instructions.
There is a side show going on through the early session that I observed, like a silent movie performed on the far side of the room. Hayley is searching for something, repeatedly checking through the clothes in her bag, her coat then searching all around the hall. Eventually I realise that she is looking for her mobile phone. She and Savannah search her bag and contents again and again. They try calling the phone to no avail. All the phones are now left on silent when in the studio. You can see the concern on Hayley’s face and she is distracted, reading a newspaper, then getting up and checking her coat pockets again. More people are roped into the search and others are dispatched to the pub to check that it was not left there. Still no sign of it. After about an hour Hayley is chatting to Savannah about something then a sheepish smile appears and she bounds over to the corner of the hall where she has left her phone charging! Savannah mimes slapping her but I think she got off lightly. Hayley returns to her normal, lively self, entertaining everyone again.
Nick shoots off early tonight, to a “production meeting” at the local pub, so Pippa takes over and runs the Tap Academy (as they have become known) through Who’s That Girl again. As dance captain, Pippa knows the number as well as Nick does and with extreme patience takes the older dancers through the number, sequence by sequence, stopping and going over the missed steps and mistakes with each individual. She has a completely differently teaching style and picks up on different things to Nick. Pippa is a brilliant, accomplished and extremely talented dancer with a beautifully precise and fluid style and while I’ve commented on the elegance she exudes before, it really is a pleasure watching her move on the dance floor.
All the younger girls in the show are great dancers and Nick has come up with some brilliant routines that really show off their abilities. I’ve seen Suzy Bastone perform a few times earlier this year and she made an impression then. Tonight amid lots of laughter and squeals the girls call me over to see Suzy’s injury. Her big toe nail has broken off. They all put their bodies and particularly their feet through so much with long dancing rehearsal sessions that these injuries occasionally occur. It doesn’t stop her though, she’s back tapping and smiling the following night.
Day 16 – Chaos, Encore – Who’s That Woman
There is a rehearsals photographer tonight, taking candid shots of the cast and creatives as they warm up with Jonathan then work through the final scenes with Director Laurie Sansom, Associate Director Andrew Panton and Choreographer Nick Winston. There is lots of whispering going on between them as they try to figure out a complicated scene involving the full company acting chaotically.
I have seen lots of rehearsal photos of Nick Winston and he is pointing in most of them. Tonight, with the photographer wandering around, I notice how much pointing Nick actually does. I’d always thought it was a choreographer action pose.
Jonathan Gill shows again the impact the Musical Director can have shaping even an established musical show like this with his new harmonies for the Beautiful Girls encore. He even has six singing voices to demonstrate how each group should sing their part. One voice for high, middle and bottom, men and ladies. He later points out that he can no longer call the bottom ladies tenor ladies since an intimate feminine hygiene product stole that name. Jonathan takes so much care and attention shaping and training the singers throughout the rehearsals, it’s an impressive impact he has keeping the vocals melodiously precise. He has also been dedicatedly playing the piano, with passion, so much over the past few weeks that he is cracking his finger nails and is sporting blue plasters on a few finger tips. It hasn’t stopped him smiling though. And texting.
Tonight the Demonic Chorus is established, appearing from the dark catacombs at the back of the stage singing a cacophony of different numbers, however it is soon decided that the chaos is too chaotic so a “Diminuendo” version is staged. Look it up. I had to.
The Tap Academy resumes at the end of the evening and Who’s That Woman is performed again and again, all the way through its eight glorious minutes. Everyone shows a marked improvement in Nick’s eyes tonight (and mine but I always think they do a great job) and they all put it down to Pippa’s tuition the night before. Suzy dances without a toe nail and still looks great. At the end of the night just before the last run through Nick asks everyone to start rehearsing as though they are on stage, performing in front of an audience. They would naturally put more into the live performance than they do for a rehearsal and he want’s them to get used to the energy required so that they are ready when the show opens. His request makes a real difference and the last dance of the night looks amazing.