Olivier, National Theatre, London ★★★★★
FILM fans could be forgiven for thinking Imelda Staunton is the typical English actress. But the Vera Drake star has a stage life too, and after Mama Rose in Gypsy and Martha in Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, has again taken a classic American role and knocked it out of the park.
In Stephen Sondheim’s musical she is lovelorn Sally. The setting is a condemned New York theatre; the occasion a reunion of chorus line girls of three decades previously.
It is 1971 but the genius of this show is that the characters mingle with younger versions of themselves. The focus is on former showgirls Sally, Phyllis (Janie Dee) and their husbands Buddy (Peter Forbes) and Ben (Philip Quast).
This is a show saturated in the spirit of Broadway. But at heart it’s about regret. Sally is married to Buddy but always loved Ben. Ben used to love Phyllis but now wants a divorce. If that sounds depressing then factor in one of the most inventive scores for the stage and a perfect production by Dominic Cooke whose cast acts the songs as powerfully as they sing them. And Dee’s Phyllis dances like a Broadway star half her age.