Songs by Howard Schuman and Andy Mackay
Based on the television series written by Howard Schuman
Book by Chloë Moss
|Zizi Strallen, Angela Marie Hurst and Carly Bawden|
Chichester is fast becoming the rock capital of West Sussex, First with Assassins and now with Rock Follies, yet another show is getting its audience into the vibe with a mise-en-scene backing track of pre-show rock classics.
Howard Schuman and Andy Mackay’s Rock Follies, their new musical is drawn from Schuman’s 1976 TV series of the same name. In its day the Thames TV production was groundbreaking following an all-girl band, the Little Ladies, from its creation through to the intoxicating highs and the devastating lows of the music business. The stories pulled no punches in displaying the sexist misogyny of the era alongside the sheer ruthless commercialism of pop and rock. The drama was compelling and today, framed around Chloë Moss’ book, Rock Follies makes for a night of theatre containing some blistering performances.
Zizi Strallen, Carly Bawden and Angela Marie Hurst are Q, Anna and Dee the three performers flung together by fate and whose fictional fusion created a band that was ahead of its time, predating and by some years the real life Bananarama and the Spice Girls. All three women are sensational in their roles – and while some of Schuman and Mackay’s lyrics may stray into banality, their melodies are stunning. And when delivered by these three leading ladies, lead to performances that take the roof of the Minerva.
It is re-assuring to see Dominic Cooke’s perceptive flair, recently missed, return to his directing. Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s choreography, honed on Six's female cast, is found to be just as exciting with half the number of leads!
Rock Follies was brilliant in its time, delivering punchy hour-long stories that in those heady pre-streaming days, created narratives that were the UK's water-cooler conversations. Running for 12 episodes, Schuman's incisive teleplays allowed enough time to fully define the characters and their interactions. Here, that 12 hours of telly is condensed into nigh-on three hours of musical, a compression that is far from flawless. The show’s unwieldy second act grapples with an untidy narrative and needs a trim, while elsewhere and far too often the supporting characters are portrayed as little more than 2-dimensional caricatures.
The wonder of this show however lies in Strallen Hurst and Bawden. As an ensemble their harmonies are delicious and in solo work, each woman sings with a unique clarity and timbre that is spine-tingling in its beauty. Indeed, with The Sound Of Music playing just across the driveway in the Festival Theatre it is likely that right now Chichester home to some of the finest performances in the country.
Credit too to Nigel Lilley and Toby Higgins whose musical arrangements of the score that, as well as including mostly new material, also offers up a couple of juke-box gems along the way, is inspired and their 5-piece band is sensational. Equal credit to Ian Dickinson’s sound design that not only captures the sounds of the 70s – that noise of a 10p piece being pushed into a payphone’s coinbox will go straight over the heads of anyone under 50 - but also brilliantly captures the acoustics of the three singers' public performances, whether the venue being portrayed on stage is a dingy London pub or New York’s Madison Square Gardens.
The script may creak, but the production values are gorgeous and the performances sensational. If you’re looking for a well curated tribute to the 1970s, then this is the finest piece of musical theatre around!
Runs until 26th August
Photo credit: Johan Persson