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A CurtainUp Review

Good Times and bad times
I've seen them all
But I'm Still Here.

— Carlotta from the Follies anthem song.
Bernadette Peters and Ron Raines as Sally and Ben
(Photo credit: Joan Marcus)
Since Stephen Sondheim's musical show biz saga with its thrill-after-thrill score and brilliant lyrics is not easy to produce. It calls for a large cast and orchestra, lavish costumes and intricate second act production numbers that all adds up to Expensive! While this show has a legion of fans who are loathe to miss any production of the musical rightly regarded as the greatest musical of the last forty years, there's also the mass market appeal factor which has led to William Goldman's book being viewed as too dark and melancholy and Sondheim's music too sophisticated to draw enough tourists.

Still, that sophisticated score is as loaded with dazzlingly melodic songs as the costumes worn by the younger versions of the re-united middle-aged and older show girls are with glittery sequins. And so, it's no folly to at least occasionally give Follies a chance to thrill its fans and win new audiences for this show. With plenty that isn't light and frothy even in super hit jukebox musicals like Jersey Boys and dance musicals like Billy Elliot, Follies is ready to have another Broadway run at least as long as its 1971 premiere at the Winter Garden (522 performances).

If the people who left the packed Marquis Theater after last Saturday afternoon's press preview smiling and humming are an indication, Eric Schaeffer's production is likely to -- and should -- enjoy the success that eluded its last Broadway revival 10 years ago. The older actors and their younger memory-born selves merge seamlessly and are up to the challenge of acting, singing and dancing.

This latest Follies is actually a transfer from a sold-out run at the Kennedy Center and must fill 500 more seats than that venue's 1100 seats. The Marquis, housed as it is in a high rise hotel, is like the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater is architecturally nothing like the old Roxy, but it too serves as a welcoming host to Sondheim's gorgeous music and lyrics, the latter atypical of so many Broadway musicals, not drowned out by the orchestra. Best of all, except for two new cast members (Jayne Houdyshell as Hattie and Mary Beth Peil as Solange LaFitte — both terrific) the same performers are in place and have had a chance to deepen and fine tune their performances.

While the talent on stage is formidable, it's the two former roommates, Sally and Phyllis and the stage door Johnnies, Ben and Buddy to whom they are unahappily married, who are at the heart of the plot. The reunion held on the eve of the theater's turning into a parking lot rekindles happy memories for most of the showgirls; but for Sally and Phyllis and their spouses it prompts memories of abandonment and disappointment (Ben abandoned Sally for Phyllis and Sally then married Buddy and all four are in crisis, individually and as couples).
Jan Maxwell
(Photo credit: Joan Marcus )
Peters, doesn't gain full throttle altitude until she does with "In Buddy's Eyes." However, by the time she literally and figuratively lets her hair down to "Losing My Mind" her part in the Loveland homage to the razzle dazzle of Busby Berkeley, she is as good a Sally as I've ever seen. Jan Maxwell has a proven record of finely nuanced serious and comic performances, but who knew that she could sing and dance so well? You won't soon forget her heart-wrenchingly bitter "Could I Leave You?"

The men in their lives — are beyond superb. Ron Raines brings magnificent vocal chops and emotional depth to Ben, the man who's more than achieved his goal of financial and worldly success but at the cost of anesthetized emotions. Buddy may have been driven into the arms of another woman by Sally's lack of love and nurturing, but the audience understandably loves him, especially when doing his mesmerizing Buddy's Folly number during Loveland.

Jaybe Houdyshell as Hattie and Mary Beth Peil as Solange LaFitte
(Photo credit: Joan Marcus)
What about the two new cast members? While I'm sure Linda Lavin did a fine job belting out "Broadway Baby," Jayne Houdyshell is a sublime and ideally cast Hattie. Like Maxwell, she's built her reputation with dramatic roles but here demonstrates her ability to not just deliver a lively "Broadway Baby" but to make it a show stopper. With a blond wig, I hardly recognized the mother-in-law from hell of TV's The Good Wife. She looks terrific and like Houdyshell makes the most of her one solo, "Ah Paris!"

Both Houdyshell and Peil move off-stage when Stella (Terri White) leads the "girls" in "Who's That Woman," the song-and-dance show stopper that demonstrates that Stella as well as the other former hoofers still know how to kick up their heels. A round of applause is due here as well as for the Loveland scenes to choreographer Warren Carlyle.

If setting up the reunion to introduce the various others former showgirls, to fill in their back stories and give them a chance to do a song does isn't quite as pacey and the wow of that ensemble number, you can't just have the various performers move into the spotlight and sing — and since there isn't a song in this show that you'd want to miss, why quibble about a few first act slow spots.

Besides the actors playing the two unhappily, undivorced couples, whose names appear above the title in the program, Elaine Page also gets separate billing, not only because she's a well-known musical star, but because her Carolotta Campion, the former showgirl turned TV star gets to sing Sondheim's anthem song "I'm Still Here." She delivers this ode to the survival power of show biz folks even as the blush of youth has worn off with power and humor.

With so many talented performers on stage, including those playing the young Sally (Lora Lee Gayer), Ben (Nick Verina), Phyllis (Kirsten Scott) and Buddy (Christian Delcroix), I'll stop with a shoutout for one and all. Gregg Barnes who was the costume consulting for the 2007 Encores! staged concert version here had the chance to go all out for the costumes worn by those attending the reunion and not just for the sequinned gowns and towering head dresses for the ghostly Weisman girls descending Derek McLane's ready for demolition draped theater (the draping extends throughout the sides of the Marquis). Natasha Katz's lighting is effective throughout, but especially so in the red-to-blue-to-red again Loveland background.

Whether this is your first encounter with Follies or you're one of the aficionados who take considerable pleasure in appraising the strengths and weaknesses of each production, even the least favorite versions have their strengths and are always worth seeing for that glorious score. To paraphrase the Samuel Johnson's comment about London at the top of our London main page: "When you're tired of Stephen Sondheim's Follies, you're tired of musical theater, for there is in that show all the glory that a musical can afford — a book about show business that touches a universal chord and song after emotion laden, often lump-in-the-throat memorable songs.

Share Links to other Follies productions reviewed at Curtainup

Follies in the Berkshires
2001 Broadway revival
Follies at Encores!

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Goldman
Directed by Eric Schaeffer
Musical Direction by James Moore
Choreography by Warren Carlyle
Cast: Bernadette Peters (Sally Durant Plummer), Lora Lee Gayer (Young Sally), Florence Lacey (Sandra Crane), Kiira Schmidt (Young Sandra, Buddy's Blues "Sally", Ensemble), Mary Beth Peil (Solange LaFitte), Ashley Yeater (Young Solange), Jayne Houdyshell (Hattie Walker) Jenifer Foote (Young Hattie,Buddy's Blues "Sally", Ensemble ), Michael Hayes (Roscoe), Terri White (Stella Deems), Erin N. Moore (Young Stella, Ensemble), Frederick Strother (Max Deems), Rosalind Elias (Heidi Schiller), Leah Horowitz (Young Heidi), SusanWatson (Emily Whitman), Danielle Jordan (Young Emily, Ensemble), Don Correia (Theodore Whitman), Elaine Paige (Carlotta Campion), Pamela Otterson (Young Carlotta, Ensemble ),Kirsten Scott (Young Phyllis), Ron Raines (Benjamin Stone), Danny Burstein (Buddy Plummer), David Sabin (Dimitri Weismann), Christian Delcroix (Young Buddy), Nick Verina (Young Ben), Clifton Samuels (Kevin, Ensemble)
Other Ensemble Members: Lawrence Alexander, Brandon Bieber, John Carroll, Leslie Donna Flesner, Leah Horowitz, Brandon Bieber Suzanne Hylensky, Amanda Kloots-Larsen, Brittany Marcin,,Brian Shepard, Amos Wolf, Ashley Yeater
Swings: Matthew deGuzman, Sara Edwards, Jessica Sheridan

Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick
Dance music Arrangements: John Berkman
Music Coordinator: John Miller
Set Design by Derek McLane
Costume Design by Gregg Barnes
Lighting Design by Natasha Katz
Sound Design by Kai Harada
Hair and wig design: David Brian Brown
Stage Manager: Arthur Gaffin
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes with one intermission.
From 8/07/11; opening 9/12/11; closing 12/30/11--extended and now closing 1/22/12.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 9/10 press matinee
Musical Numbers
Act One
    Prologue / Orchestra
  • “Beautiful Girls”/ Roscoe and Company
  • “Don't Look at Me” / Sally and Ben
  • “Waiting for the Girls Upstairs”/Buddy, Ben, Phyllis, Sally, Young Buddy, Young Ben, Young Phyllis, Young Sally
  • “Rain on the Roof”/ Emily & Theodore
  • “Ah, Paris!”/ Solange
  • “Broadway Baby”/Hattie
  • “The Road You Didn't Take” Ben
  • “In Buddy’s Eyes”/Sally
  • “Who’s That Woman” / Stella and The Ladies
  • “I’m Still Here”/ Carlotta
  • “Too Many Mornings” /Ben and Sally
Act Two
  • “The Right Girl”/ Buddy
  • “One More Kiss”/ Heidi and Young Heidi
  • “Could I Leave You?”/ Phyllis
  • The Folly of Love“Loveland”/ The Ensemble
  • The Folly of Youth“You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow”/Young Buddy, Young Phyllis, Young Ben, Young Sally
  • Buddy’s Folly “The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me-Blues”/ Buddy, “Margie,” “Sally”
  • Sally’s Folly “Losing My Mind”/ Sally
  • Phyllis’s Folly “The Story of Lucy and Jessie” Phyllis and Gentlemen of The Ensemble
  • Ben’s Folly “Live, Laugh, Love”/ Ben and Company
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