Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Follies"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Larry Stark


"Follies"

Book by James Goldman
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Paul Farwell
Choreography by Patricia Strauss & Charley Borden
Musical Director Wayne Ward

Costume and Design by Richard Itczak, Val Verge, Sloan Perry-Thorne
Scenic Design by Ronald L. Dion
Lighting Design by Larry Devlin
Stage Manager & Sound Design by Alex Savitzky

The Showgirl/Young Emily/Loveland Showgirl & Dancer.....Julie Silverman
Roscoe........................................................................................Mike Ryan
Young Roscoe/ Young Theodore/Loveland Dancer/Kevin...........Gary Ryan
Sally Durant Plummer.............................................................Dawn Tucker
Young Sally/Loveland Dancer................................................Peri Chouteau
Francesca............................................................................Jessica Shulman
Heidi Schiller.............................................................................Deb Poppel
Young Heidi/Loveland Showgirl & Dancer......................Stephanie Devine
Stella Deems/Loveland Showgirl..........................................Pamela Powers
Young Stella/Loveland Dancer.............................................Linda Sughrue
Max Deems.........................................................................Robert O'Brien
Hattie Walker..........................................................Annita Marie Brockney
Young Hattie/Loveland Dancer................................................Holly Wade
Emily Whitman/Loveland Showgirl..........................................Gisele Ganz
Young Emily/Loveland Showgirl & Dancer.........................Julie Silverman
Theodore Whitman..................................................................David Frank
Phyllis Rogers Stone...............................................................Sheila Rehrig
Young Phyllis/Loveland Dancer....................................Kimber Lynn Drake
Ben Stone............................................................................Richard Santos
Young Ben/Loveland Dancer.................................................James Tallach
Carlotta Campion.........................................................................Jane Eyler
Solange LaFitte....................................................................Geralyn Horton
Buddy Plummer......................................................................Bill Allsbrook
Young Buddy/Loveland Dancer...................................................Jim Jordan
Dimitri Weissman......................................................................Joe Caliguri

Orchestra
Piano...................Wayne Ward
Keyboard...........Colleen Henry
Percussion.......Steve Jounakos
Bass...David Weisman/Rob Orr

If ever a musical cried out to be a movie, it's "Follies" but thank god it's never been filmed. The show does things with time that would be a snap for cinema, but does them all right there, live onstage, no cut-away shots, no re-takes. If anything, especially in the surreal "Loveland" sequence in the second act, the Turtle Lane Playhouse production is probably calmer, clearer than the one Harold Prince, Michael Bennett, Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman opened at the Colonial Theatre three decades ago. And, if they have really cleaned up problems with the opening fifteen minutes since their first performance, Turtle Lane has a must-see winner.

Director Paul Farwell obviously spent his rehearsal time nailing down the difficult later moments, which means the show gets better and better as it goes on. But the show sets-up and then trips-up audience expectations all the way through, and his inattention to the introductory moments had his cast come on, on opening night, mouthing lines like rank amateurs cold-reading an unfamiliar script, giving no hint whatever of the excellence in store.

The show opens as a reunion/farewell in a theatre --- already smashed by a wrecking-ball --- that thirty years before was the home of Dimitri Weissman's Follies. The hasbeen-showgirls, dressed in '70s matronly finery, play at a charade of re-living their youth, ("Don't Look At Me" is the song) but as they do, each one is accompanied by a young ghost of her former self dressed in pure white. The plot centers on two of them --- not headliners, not strutting showgirls, but once-energetic hoofers, one now married to a lawyer/politician, the other married to a businessman traveller and the mother of his two kids.

Then the kaleidoscope shifts and, for a time, seems to focus on the pairs of young lovers ("Waiting for The Girls Upstairs") in the first bloom of their infatuation with each other and with life --- another audience expectation that doesn't last. Breaking into the flashbacks are three songs by the hasbeen showgirls, each illustrating a different aspect of ageing. Geralyn Horton as Solange LaFitte in spangles and furs merely repeats her famous hit ("Ah, Paris!"); Annita Marie Brockney as Hattie Walker sings the yearning "Broadway Baby", every no-talent's unfulfilled theme-song; and Jane Eyler as Carlotta Campion belts out the plugging-professional's saga of "careering from career to career" --- the immortal "I'm Still Here!"

And while those songs deal with the present/past of show-business, the young and the older quartets of lovers reveal that Ben Stone the lawyer (Richard Santos) had affairs with both women, marrying Phyllis (Sheila Rehrig) though still philandering, while the less worldly Sally (Dawn Tucker) settled for Buddy Plummer (Bill Allsbrook) although she's still ready to leave her husband for Ben should he even wink in her direction. (These four performers are dynamite.)

How on earth could such eager kids get so screwed up?

Well, three songs into Act Two, the show plunges headlong into their psyches to explain exactly that, when the battered old theatre transforms itself (by the miracle of Ronald L. Dion's miraculous set) into the "Loveland" sequence out of an old Follies show --- a saccharine-sweet make-believe in which "You're Gonna Love Tomorrow" because "Love Will See Us Through"! (That, the program assures us, is "The Folly of Youth" --- the pipe-dream of romance sold to an entire generation of duped Americans.)

But, in rigorously styled Sondheim songs maintaining the light-hearted fun of those old musical revues, the show opens each heart to expose the truth beneath the illusion. Buddy's Folly is the rollicking romp "God, Why Don't You Love Me Blues" revealing that he wants only what he can't have, and knows that anyone who loves him must be crazy to do so. Sally's Folly ("Losing My Mind") was prefigured in an earlier song "In Buddy's Eyes": she is only alive, only really herself, in the eyes of her husband.

Phyllis's Folly is the patter-song "The Story of Lucy and Jessie" --- again insisting that each one thinks she wants the other's life style, intimating that this jet-setting and casually affairing trophy-wife longs for Sally's secure mother-of-two blandness -- and vice versa. And her hubby Ben's Folly shatters when, singing the devil-may-care, self-assured "Live, Laugh, Love" he confronts his hollow, games-winning lack of any real self whatever.

Certainly not what audiences expect from something called "Follies", is it? Sure, all the flare and glare and razzmatazz, the statuesque beauties balancing mountains of Erte-esque fantasy costumes that nevertheless reveal every inch of their long, lovely legs (It took three costumers to create these confections: Richard Itczak, Val Verge & Sloan Perry-Thorne, sculptors of dreams all!), the glow of Larry Devlin's lights --- all that is there. But there are demons in the shadows, and real people bleed inside. At the final curtain opening night the audience was stunned by how unremittingly excellent a musical can be.

But I hope Paul Farwell hasn't let this fine cast rest on its laurels. He dealt with all the hard parts, but the easy ones need work. The opening scenes needed not just a brush-up lines-rehearsal, they should be attacked with a whip and a chair, until they sing as convincingly, as magnificently as the rest of the show. This is one I would like to see closing night, to find out how much better a good show can be. But that won't be till the 16th of March, and between now and then, you can all go see how far they have progressed.

Love,
===Anon.

[ NOTE: I reviewed this musical when it tried out here in Boston, and saw a production at The Footlight Club several years back. And along the way I have had many conversations with an eminent scholar who attended every rehearsal here in Boston and knows the show intimately. (Instance: Yvonne DeCarlo, who sang essentially her own biography in "I'm Still Here" was given the song one afternoon to be inserted that very night, never had a real rehearsal, and may never have gotten it right even during the Broadway run.) Some day that scholar will publish his notes and insights on this show, and astonish the English-speaking world. The show gets better every time I see it ]


"Follies" (till 18 March)
TURTLE LANE PLAYHOUSE
283 Melrose Street, NEWTON
1(617) 244-0169


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