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Song Insights: 'One More Kiss', FOLLIES

Alison Langer and Felicity Lott
in Follies

Today is the last day of Follies at the National Theatre, which means we have time for just one more Song Insight before they part.

For the last month, we've taken you behind the sheet music, exploring some of the most iconic numbers with the cast and creative teams: "I'm Still Here", "Buddy's Blues", and "Who's That Woman?"

In our final installment, MD Nigel Lilley gives us one final souvenir of bliss: "One More Kiss".

Nigel Lilley: When Stephen Sondheim came to rehearsals, he explained to us that "One More Kiss" was the first song he wrote for the show because he wanted to see if he could write "in the old style".

One of the many remarkable things about his writing is his ability to get inside a style of music and yet entirely make it his own. Even though we are listening to a waltz which is unmistakably Viennese sounding, it still has a harmonic language which surprises your ear.

Of all of the songs in Follies, "One More Kiss" references the earliest musical style: turn of the century operetta of the type written by Franz Lehar or Oscar Straus, which dominated the hit parade up until the emergence of Tin Pan Alley in the 20s.

In this it reflects the age of Heidi Schiller, one of the more senior of the Follies girls. It also highlights that the Follies were such an incredible mix of high art and low art. It could be an aria one minute and then a Fanny Brice comic routine the next.

In our production (perhaps more than in any previously), there is a strong suggestion of a backstory between Heidi and Weismann, the theatre owner. This gives the idea of "Never shall we meet again" even more specific poignancy - with the wrecking ball about to knock the theatre down, imagine what memories will disappear with the building.

The cast of Follies

Working with Dame Felicity [Lott] has been an absolute highlight throughout the run. She is one of our great sopranos and I've been a fan for many years.

Felicity has extraordinary technique: in rehearsal, we experimented with a feeling of fragility at the beginning of the song, which starts just with a faint violin tremolo (like vocally dipping your toe in the water), and gradually gaining strength and confidence.

We also worked with Penny Dyer, our dialect coach, to pepper in small Viennese inflections, like certain vowel sounds such as "kiss" which have a slightly different shape. Even though we imagine Heidi has lived in the US for many years, she has retained a slight accent.

On the lyric "One more glimpse of the past", the older Heidi evokes her younger self and Alison Langer (our younger Heidi) joins in singing in unison. We worked hard in rehearsal to match the phrasing, vowel sounds and vocal timbre exactly, so that you are almost unaware that another voice has joined in.

Young Heidi was one of our big casting challenges, as we needed to find someone who could credibly match Dame Josephine Barstow in the first cast (and who has now returned for the final weeks) and Dame Felicity in the second. Alison is a magnificent singer and a brilliant actress in her own right.

The duet is a real highlight of the show when I watch from out front.

Follies at the National Theatre until 11 May

Photo credit: Johan Persson

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