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Sunday, 18 September 2011 14:08

Broadway Review - FOLLIES

Written by
Ron Raines, Bernadette Peters, Lora Lee Gayer and Nick Verina (l-r) Ron Raines, Bernadette Peters, Lora Lee Gayer and Nick Verina (l-r) Photo: Joan Marcus

The cast of the recently transferred Kennedy Center production of Stephen Sondheim's and James Goldman's Follies has more combined years of theatre experience than the rest of the Broadway show casts combined.  This cast is enthralling.  

Under the smart direction of Eric Schaeffer, this production beautifully evokes the by-gone era of the follies and the period between the two World Wars.  It pays homage to such song-writers as Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, George Gershwin and many more.

{module ad_left_body}Follies is the story of a reunion of the Weismann Girls (think Florenz Ziegfeld).  It is the 30th anniversary of the closing of the show and they have gathered one last time to celebrate the past before the theatre is torn down to make way for a parking lot.

Follies focuses on two couples, the middle-class Buddy Plummer (Danny Burstein) and Sally Durant (Bernadette Peters), and the lawyer Benjamin Stone (Ron Raines) and his “cultivated” wife Phyllis Rogers (Jan Maxwell).  

Sally has severe depression and perhaps a bit of psychosis and poor Buddy does everything he can to make her happy.  Ben is outwardly successful but is in reality having a mid-life crisis, successful with his career and that’s about it.  Phyllis is bitter and feels abandoned by Ben.  

Follies is written with overlapping scenes that take place simultaneously between young versions of these couples.  It contrasts the difference between youthful hopes and aspirations and the realization that this is as good as it gets.  Throughout the show there are also ghosts of show-girls the cross the stage and crawl on catwalks on the back wall of the theatre like lost souls.  As the black curtain rises during Sondheim’s overture you see the ghosts of the past wandering the stage.  The past and the present are beautifully delineated by lighting designer Natasha Katz who has used cool lighting to indicate the past and warm toned lighting to represent the present.

Not only does Follies represent the death of youthful dreams, but also the death of a style of musical theatre that is no longer in vogue.  It uses pastiche numbers representing various song styles of the golden years of the follies and more contemporary numbers that bear Mr. Sondheim’s own unique style.

One is challenged (in a good way) to keep up with this facile production as it moves seamlessly between the present and 30 years ago.  The folks next to me just didn’t get it.  I heard one of the men say “I thought there was going to be more dancing and singing, you know, like the follies.”  As soon as the more fantastical “Love Land” section begins, I hear him exclaim “now this is what I was talking about.”  I guess you could say Follies has something for everyone.

Led by the inimitable Bernadette Peters, this cast is spell-binding.  This is perhaps my favorite of Ms. Peters' performances to date.  She has convincingly honed ex-follies girl Sally Durant into a quirky, desperate and needy character, completely out of touch with reality.  Ms. Peters' voice, though not what it once was, is ideally suited to the vulnerable Sally.  She breaks your heart with “Losing My Mind” as she laments a long-ago fling with Ben.  

Ron Raines as Ben is marvelous.  He is in fine vocal form and is believable as the successful man with his own demons and regrets (“The Road You Didn’t Take”) and whose facade crumbles by the end of the show (“Live, Laugh, Love”) when he has a break-down on stage.  

Jan Maxwell is tart and sharp-tongued as the vengeful, angry and sassy Phyllis.  Her “Could I Leave You?” is finely articulated and spitting with venom.  Jan Maxwell’s performance has made me a fan for life.  

Danny Burstein gives a touching and funny performance handily performing Buddy’s two big numbers, “The Right Girl” and “The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me-Blues” like a true showman.  I loved his performance.

Another highlight of the evening was getting to see English theatre legend Elaine Paige live for the first time.  She did not disappoint. Her “I’m Still Here” was fresh and edgy.   

Jayne Houdyshell is just hilarious as Hattie.  She did not do the original production in Washington (Linda Lavin played the role).  She is a wonderful addition to the cast.  Her comedic timing is brilliant and she sings the hell out of “Broadway Baby.”

Gregg Barnes costumes are magnificent and stunning.   Whether it’s his head-dresses and sequined outfits for the ghost follies girls, the 1971 attire for the women or the spectacular “Love Land” sequence which is so eye catching, Mr. Barnes had his hands full with this one and he came through beautifully.

My thanks to the Kennedy Center for hiring a 28-piece orchestra.  The sound of real instruments and more than just a smattering of musicians make this one of the other big reasons to see this show. Master orchestrator Jonathan Tunick’s orchestrations are lush and full.

Follies originally opened at the Winter Garden Theatre in 1971 and only played a total of 522 performances, losing a large portion of the investors $800,000.  Perhaps it proved too much for the audience then.  Sondheim and Goldman were ahead of their time.  Thanks to timing and this delicious new production,  Follies might just have found an audience.  Do not miss this production, you will regret it.  It is playing a limited run at the Marquis Theatre on Broadway.

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Additional Info

  • Show Style: Musical
Last modified on Thursday, 09 July 2015 04:40