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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
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).
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.
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.
Links to other Follies productions reviewed at Curtainup
Follies in the Berkshires
2001 Broadway revival
Follies at Encores!
Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show
Slings & Arrows-the complete set
You don't have to be a Shakespeare aficionado to love all 21 episodes of this hilarious and moving Canadian TV series about a fictional Shakespeare Company