Follies premiered in 1971 with a pre-Broadway tryout in Boston and Broadway performances at the Winter Garden Theatre, which resulted in significant financial loses although critical acclaim with several Tony Award wins. After transferring to St. Louis and eventually Los Angeles in 1972, Follies returned to stages in the United States in 1973 and 1976. In 1985, the musical was produced for the first time outside of the U.S. The European premiere of Follies was staged in Wythenshawe, a district south of the city of Manchester, England.
About the Production
The British and European premiere of Follies was produced by the Manchester Library Theatre Company. Founded in 1952, the Library Theatre Company puts on a range of performances, including drama, musical theatre, family plays and comedies. The company's full production of Follies ran from 30 April 1985 at the Forum Theatre in Wythenshawe. The musical concluded its first British run in early June 1985. The Wythenshawe run would be the first of three runs in England. Two years later in 1987, Follies returned to England for a run at the West End's Shaftesbury Theatre. Follies returned to England for a concert at London's Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1996 and a London revival in 2002 at the Royal Festival Hall.
The Wythenshawe Forum first opened in 1971. At the time, the Forum was one of Greater Manchester's largest public buildings. In addition to the Forum Theatre, the facility featured a main hall, meeting rooms, leisure centre and library. Following the Follies run at the multi-purpose centre's theatre, the Forum fell into disuse by the mid 1990's. Similar to the plot of the Sondheim musical, the facility and its theatre deteriorated. In recent years, the Forum has been refurbished with extensive internal and external improvements. The Wythenshawe Forum now boasts a large reception area, café, and retail units including a pharmacy and a newsagent. The Forum also houses a modern leisure centre, library, adult learning centre, nursery and health centre. It is located at Forum Square north of Manchester International Airport, approximately 8 miles south of Manchester's city centre.
The largely British cast included Mary Millar as Sally, Meg Johnson as Stella, Chili Bouchier as Hattie, Bryan Burdon as Theodore, Marie Lorraine as Vanessa, Monical Dell as Solange, Jeannie Harris as Carlotta, Josephine Blake as Phyllis, Bill Bradley as Buddy, Kevin Colson as Benjamin, David Scase as Dimitri, David Morgan-Young as Kevin, Peter Honri as Vincent, Shirley Greenwood as Emily, Joseph Powell as Roscoe, Les Want as Max, Linda Jane Holmes as Francesca, Betty Benfield as Heidi, and Richard Torn as Charles. The Follies cast also featured Debbie Snook as Young Phyllis, Stephen Hale as Young Ben, Liz Izen as Young Sally, Kim Ismay as Young Vanessa, Paul Burton as Young Buddy, Lorraine Croft as Young Stella, Meryl Richardson as Young Heidi, and Mitch Sebastrian as Young Vincent. Anthony Thomas James and Anthony O'Driscoll rounded out the cast as the photographer and chauffeur, respectively.
The run of Follies at the Forum was directed by Howard Lloyd-Lewis. Howard Lloyd-Lewis, with support from Roger Haines and Paul Kerryson, led the Library Theatre Company and staged a series of European premieres of American musicals at the Forum. Lloyd-Lewis would die shortly after Follies closed following a car crash in 1986. During his tenure with the Library Theatre Company, his productions earned the company national acclaim. The Observer recognised that the production of Folliesand another Sondheim work, Pacific Overtures, as "landmarks of theatre". Other members of the production team included Kerryson, who served as the production's choreographer. The Follies team also included musical director Simon Lowe, costume designer Charles Cusick-Smith, and production designer Chris Kinman. Lighting was led by Tim Wratten.