Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Company" till 27 September and "Follies"**** till 11 October

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2008 by Carl A. Rossi

There is more Sondheim psychology in Janet Ferreri’s big scene in Metro Stage’s COMPANY than all of the Lyric’s FOLLIES which is content to skim the surface from its first ghost straight on to its curtain call.

"COMPANY"

book by George Firth

music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

directed by Lisa Rafferty

musical direction by Adam McDonald

“Side by Side by Side” choreography by Linda Sughrue

Robert … Zachary Hardy
Sarah … Tracy Nygard
Harry … Robert Case
Susan … Meredith Stypinski
Peter … Gary Ryan
Jenny … Alyson Van De Giesen
David … Dave Carney
Amy … Fran Betlyon
Paul … William Neely
Joanne … Janet Ferreri
Larry … John M. Costa
April … Kimberly Suskind
Kathy … Kristina Horacek
Marta … Lindsey Larson

ORCHESTRA:

Conductor / Piano … Adam McDonald
Violin … Matt Owens
Cello … Tom Holdener
Trumpet … Jonah Kappraff
Bass … Dirk Hillyer
Drums … Mark McGettrick

"FOLLIES"

book by James Goldman

music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

directed by Spiro Veloudos

musical direction by Jonathan Goldberg

choreography by Ilyse Robbins

Theodore Whitman … Frank Aronson
Sally Durant Plummer … Leigh Barrett
Young Hattie … Emilie Battle
Young Carlotta … Jordan Kai Burnett
Buddy Plummer … Peter A. Carey
Young Stella … Kerrin Elizabeth Clark
Young Buddy … Phil Crumrine
Young Sally … Michele DeLuca
Young Ben … Josh Dennis
Young Phyllis … Aimee Doherty
Young Emily … Caitlin Crosbie Doonan
Ben Stone … Larry Daggett
Stella Deems … Kerry Dowling
Young Solange … Jennifer Beth Glick
Ensemble / Mike, a Waiter … Curly Glynn
Ensemble … Mark Linehan
Hattie Walker … Jacqui Parker
Emily Whitman … Deb Poppel
Young Heidi … April Pressel
Ensemble … David Sharrocks
Carlotta Campion … Bobbie Steinbach
Solange LaFitte … Kathy St. George
Heidi Schiller … Dawn Tucker
Dmitri Weismann … Arthur Waldstein
Roscoe … Chuck Walsh
Young Theodore … Michael Wood
Phyllis Rogers Stone … Maryann Zschau

ORCHESTRA:

Violin … Stanley Silverman
Reeds … Ray Taranto; Louis Toth
Trumpet / Flugelhorn … Paul Perfetti; Brendan Kierman
Trombone … Hide Domeki
Percussion … Desiree Glazier
Conductor / Keyboards … Jonathan Goldberg
Sound Consultant … Jeffrey Leonard
Orchestra Managers … Paul Perfetti; Louis Toth
Substitute Reeds … Wendy Macdonald; Jeffrey Leonard
Substitute Trombone … Steve Shires

There can be no greater one-two punch in the history of the American musical than Stephen Sondheim’s back-to-back COMPANY (1970) and FOLLIES (1971): in COMPANY, Robert (aka “Bobby”), a commitment-shy bachelor, looks at marriage Manhattan-style as demonstrated by five “good and crazy” couples; FOLLIES is a reunion of old entertainers in a Broadway theatre slated for destruction, centering on two ex-showgirls, the stage-door-Johnnies they married for better and, especially, for worse, and the quartet’s own follies as embodied by their youthful selves in flashback. Janus-like, COMPANY looked to the future and FOLLIES paid hommage to the past --- both caught the lightning of social change in different bottles; those changes have come and gone and these groundbreakers have lost their original thrust: COMPANY’s characters were from the grey-flannel generation, confronted by the sexual revolution of the 1960s; FOLLIES’ original production boasted stage and film veterans from the days of the great impresarios, making the musical a living time-capsule, and producer-director Harold Prince and designers Boris Aronson (sets) and Florence Klotz (costumes) wrapped it all up in a lavish memorial to a vanished theatre-moment.

In short, COMPANY and FOLLIES are merely musicals, now, from another era --- Mr. Sondheim’s followers may be shocked to know that these musicals are almost 40 years old --- still, Mr. Sondheim is kept from slipping down the timeline thanks, in part, to revisions of these works: COMPANY has had its libretto re-tailored at least twice to fit today’s thirty-somethings yet Bobby remains a rudderless Everyman no matter how many clever lines are grafted onto him. The evening’s tone has also changed: before, the institution of marriage remained intact despite its flawed participants --- now, the five couples drift as much as Bobby does (nor have COMPANY’s women morphed into working moms: they remain housewives).

I was fortunate to have seen FOLLIES’ original Broadway production four months after it opened, and a teenager’s memories cannot be doubted, here: it was a breathtaking spectacle that pulled out all the stops and that is how it must be done, for full impact, though such an undertaking would surely bankrupt many a theatre. In Boston, only the Huntington Theatre could do it justice with its B.U. barn and enough clout to lure in a “name” cast. In the meantime, FOLLIES has been scaled down for smaller theatres with its Act One ladies doing overtime in Act Two’s “Loveland” sequence, and a minimal mise-en-scène can still make it all work provided that “Loveland” and its four Follies-turns are reasonably lush in contrast. Thrice have I seen a stripped-down FOLLIES: Overture Productions’ concert (2003), the Barrington Theatre’s production (2005) and, now, at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston which employs a number of the Overture artists. None of them capture(d) the original --- but, then, how could they? --- and the clueless might assume that the Follies themselves was but a fancy-dress cabaret; still, a stripped-down FOLLIES is better than no FOLLIES, at all: this remains Mr. Sondheim’s best score, in my opinion, and the show deserves to be seen and heard --- now, there’s “timeless” for you.

FOLLIES is, at heart, a haunted house filled with ghosts and memories; a mood-piece where its Proustian characters drift on- and offstage the way a camera dissolves from close-up to close-up, and mood is what is missing from the Lyric production: the ghosts clump about most noisily and take a while to establish themselves (in 1971, you could tell these were spooks, right away); the alienating device of counterpoint is smudged, turning it to gibberish, thrice; there is no stylish shift from reality into “Loveland” and what follows: these are merely six more numbers to sit through; the nostalgia-numbers are agreeably staged but for the “conversational” ones the Lyric singers turn-look-turn-drift-repeat (no doubt, so that side-audiences can also see their faces) rather than go at them, eye-to-eye, or else they strike operetta poses with their arms about each other --- and “operetta” is the last thing Mr. Sondheim had on his mind in those days…

This FOLLIES draws on Boston’s star system to make it enough of a showcase, though here it means seeing familiar performers doing their familiar thing: thus, Maryann Zschau is Brassy, Kerry Dowling is Hearty, Kathy St. George is Pixie and Bobbi Steinbach is Salty. Though she tends to coast more often that not, Ms. Steinbach is equally at home in dramas and comedies; I cannot see why the Mss. Zschau, Dowling and St. George are not encouraged to test those waters, as well. Leigh Barrett has become a singing-machine: whenever a major musical hits the Boston boards, Ms. Barrett is bound to be in it. She, too, needs to stretch her artistic muscles for everything she sings now sounds the same --- on the visual side, Ms. Barrett is twice-dressed as Massenet’s Thaïs to luscious effect: I was aware of her arms, breasts and hips for the first time…. As the two frustrated husbands, Peter A. Carey makes Buddy a kohl-eyed psychotic (though it’s good to know he can hoof it, when he has to), and Larry Daggett, new to me, plays Ben’s neuroses as so many post-its stuck upon him --- Ben should crack, gradually, as he nears his truth. The few pleasurable moments for me were Jacqui Parker belting “Broadway Baby” as a red-hot mama, Aimee Doherty continuing to relax and bloom (she will be playing Sally Bowles in a CABARET, soon), Emilie Battle demonstrating a showgirl’s correct pace and posture when descending a flight of stairs and, delightfully, Dawn Tucker as the elderly diva who sings “One Last Kiss” with her ghost. Chances are you have glimpsed Ms. Tucker, here and there, in past ensembles; now she stands out, convincingly aged, in her character’s wheelchair, and with an unexpectedly lovely voice --- let us hope Ms. Tucker is allowed to step closer to center stage, in the future, and on her own two legs.

The Metro Stage’s COMPANY is a cantata performed on platforms and cubes (the costumes: vaguely 1970s); the jury is out as to whether the staging is Lisa Rafferty’s own, if it now comes with the revised script, or if Ms. Rafferty has channeled it in from New York; however, the results quite, quite good --- another showcase, this time for many up-and-comers who deserve Boston’s support and attendance, my one nitpik being there is not a single New York body-rhythm in the cast --- too bad, since the characters are part of the Manhattan cocktail-and-therapy set --- if you know New York and its rhythms, you can do “London”; if you know Boston and its rhythms, you can do “Paris”.

Zachary Hardy lends his own charisma and spot-on timing to Bobby’s blandness and, happily, Bobby doesn’t cancel him out --- I would now like to see what Mr. Hardy can do with a red-blooded role. Several years ago, April the stewardess stole the SpeakEasy production; the Metro's thief is Amy the stressed-out bride, and Fran Betlyon is all the more hilarious for making her character’s hysteria all too recognizable (my, how times have changed!). Janet Ferreri, slender to the point of gauntness, contributes a fascinating Joanne --- Elaine Stritch stamped the role in her own caustic image so Joanne is often played as a harpy on a bender; Ms. Ferreri starts out, daintily --- almost too daintily --- but by her big scene in Act Two, her Joanne undergoes a sodden mood swing; her face, a death mask with basilisk stare --- her proposition to Bobby brought surprised murmurs from the audience. There is more Sondheim psychology in Ms. Ferreri’s big scene than all of the Lyric’s FOLLIES which is content to skim the surface from its first ghost straight on to its curtain call.

"Company" (19-27 September)
METRO STAGE COMPANY
Cambridge Family YMCA Theatre in Central Square, SOMERVILLE, MA
1 (617) 524-5013

"Follies" (5 September-11 October)
LYRIC STAGE COMPANY OF BOSTON
140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 585-5678

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