I must say I did not like the first half of this show, the obsessive behaviour of "Fosca" was getting on my nerves and the lyrics made me want to look for a sick bag. However, after the interval the story improved immensely and I was able to get more in to the characters as they became more believable. On reflection you needed the tedious first act (although bad) to set the foundation so that the second act could be effective.
Sondheim's play is thought provoking, making you see that love takes many forms. You do not have to be beautiful in order to be loved and if you try hard enough you may get what you want.
The best performance for me was Maria Friedman, the anguish on her face with the torture of her passion for Georgio was superb, even though at first her part irritated me! She also had by far the best voice, although Helen Hobson who plays Clara was also good. Michael Ball did not have a really strong song to test him, but he did perform adequately.
Overall, I think the story and music is very average, and could have been much better, but with some fine acting and singing the show is just saved. I don't expect to see this have a long run, but then I did not expect 'Company' to win some Olivier Awards!!
As a huge Sondheim-fan I am a bit prejudiced, but I believe this is the best musical I ever saw! Be prepared for a heavy evening. It is no rule that musicals has to be light and funny and this one certainly is not!
The story is based on the Italian film "Passione d'Amore". It deals with young officer Giorgio (Michael Ball) who is send away on a mission, leaving behind his mistress Clara (Helen Hobson). While he is away, Giorgio gets more and more under the influence of Fosca (Maria Friedman) the ill cousin of his commanding officer. He is just trying to be friendly to her, but Fosca wants more. She becomes obsessed with him. Because of her poor health, Fosca's doctor urges Giorgio to go along with it and to pretend he really loves her. Giorgio becomes a prisoner of Fosca's obsession for him. It puts a tremendous strain on him. When on leave he tells Clara that their affair is over, because Clara is not prepared to leave her husband and child. Then, Giorgio realises that Fosca is the only one who loves him unconditionally. He returns to her and they spend one night together. After that, Fosca weakens quickly and dies. Giorgio falls apart and is taken to a mental institution.
The difficult part of Fosca is played beautifully and very strong by Maria Friedman. I saw her before as Dot in "Sunday in the Park with George" and in her one woman show at the Donmar Warehouse. I can only say she has grown enormously. I am really impressed. Ms. Friedman has gained a loyal fan! I gave her a standing ovation.
As for Michael Ball, I think he has a great voice and he is cut out to play the part of Giorgio. But other than that, he's just a pretty face. This is a musical which will haunt you after you've seen it. I'm still not recovered. Marvellous!