note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Beverly Creasey
The Turtle Lane Playhouse in Newton has nerves of steel to tackle an impossible musical like "Follies". Impossible because critics either love or hate it for its cheeky conception and non-linear plot --- if there is a plot at all in the interior lives of its principal characters. And impossible because of Stephen Sondheim's complex rhythms and devilishly tricky lyrics, which have to sprint to keep up with the wickedly athletic music. But that steel pays off: TLP gets ahold of the musical and shakes out some fine dramatic moments.
The songs in "Follies" are so ingenious they work straight-on, they work as satire, and they even work outside the context of the story. Cabaret singers know full well the power of exquisite songs like "In Buddy's Eyes" or --- my hands down favorite --- "Losing My Mind". The latter is the musical equivalent of a Picasso drawing, in which a minimum of lines create a three-dimensional, eloquent picture.
The story takes its own sweet time setting up a bittersweet reunion of about a dozen performers from an old "Follies" series of shows, troupers who haven't seen each other for thirty years ... in particular, two couples who met and worked together... who come with notions of recapturing their youthful dreams.
Sally (Dawn Tucker) is married to Buddy (Bill Allsbrook) but she fantasizes that she can rekindle a romance with Ben (Richard Santos) who is unhappily married to Phyllis (Sheila Rehrig). Ben would be unhappily married to anyone because he's disillusioned with himself. (His "I don't like me" is the one line in the show which makes me gag. Book writer James Goldman is gilding the psychiatric lily with that little epiphany...not even a sensational pro like Santos can make it palatable... but that's the only false note in "Follies" for my money.) Act II works so well, I saw tears (in my eyes and in my neighbor's) over Tucker's version of "Losing My Mind" and I was almost on my feet over Rehrig's bravura "Could I Leave You?" --- not to mention Allsbrook's knock 'em dead-on "God, Why Don't You Leave Me?" --- aided and abetted by cuties Linda Sugrue and Holly Wade in Richard Itczak's hilariously ample costumes.
Itczak and company (Val Verge and Sloan Perry-Thorne) outdo themselves in the sumptuous-costumes department, and Ron L. Dion's magical set (complete with stunning deteriorating arch) blends opulence with the wear-and-tear of age.
Lots of performances stand out: The touching relationship between the frail foreign showgirl Emily (Gisele Ganz) and her loving husband --- niftily played by Director Paul Farwell understudying the role on the night I came. Farwell gets first rate performances from just about everyone, and Wayne Ward's orchestra sounded gorgeous. (What a tough score this is!) Kimber Lynn Drake and Peri Chouteau are charming as Tucker and Rehrig's younger counterparts.
What a treat to see all the fabulous, talented women-of-a-certain-age take center stage. Kudos to Annita Marie Brockney, Deb Poppel et al.
[ P.S.: I don't review friends, as a rule, but there's one extraordinary performance I just can't ignore. She acts the heck out of her cameo as a French bombshell. OOO la la. C'est magnifique! ]