Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Follies"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Carl A. Rossi


book by James Goldman
music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
directed by Neil Donohoe
musical direction by Bill Casey
assistant musical direction by David McGrory
conducted by Reuben Reynolds III
choreographed by Michelle Chassé

Sally Durant Plummer … Lauren Lukacek
Young Sally … Emily Ferranti
Phyllis Rogers Stone … Hannah Jane McMurray
Young Phyllis … Valerie Larsen
Benjamin Stone … Robert Lance Mooney
Young Ben … Gregory Pember
Buddy Plummer … Bud Weber
Young Buddy … Keith White
Roscoe … Mike Barry
Young Roscoe … Geoffrey Hefflefinger
Hattie Walker … Haley Selmon
Stella Deems … Babs Rubenstein
Young Stella … Santina Umbach
Max Deems … Cory Kotas
Solange La Fitte … Kristina Elizabeth Morales
Carlotta Campion … Lindsey Larson
Heidi Schiller … Jennifer Cohen
Young Heidi … Stephanie Sanford
Emily Whitman … Nikki Michaelson
Theodore Whitman … Steven Cardona
Dimitri Weissman … Trent Mills
Vincent … Taylor Avazpour
Young Vincent … Peter Mills
Vanessa … Georgia Tapp
Young Vanessa … Caley Crawford
Christine Donovan … Ashley Alana Kenney
Dee Dee West … Julie Thomas
Meredith Lane … Katie Young
Laura Powell … Meryn Beckett
Betty Jones … Whitney Snow
Francesca … Sehri A. Wickliffe
Kevin … Nicholas Christopher
Major Domo … Lee David Skunes
Chauffeur … Ryan Halsaver

Alexandra Matteo; Amy White; Alexandra Fassler;
Eric Johnson; Derek St. Pierre; Steve Cardona

Tiffany Wiesand; Felicia Blum

Shoba Narayanan; Sara Coombs; Niki Sawyer;
Carolyn Miller; Stephanie Gandolo; Whitney Conkling

Mike Heslin; Matthew Varelia; Dane Reis;
Tyler Jaymes Albright; Mackenzie Miller; Nicholas Christopher

Suzanna Dupree; Ellen Harvey; Kelly Martin; Amanda Durst

* * *

Conductor … Reuben Reynolds III
Reed 1 … Beatrice Macias; Brent Beech
Reed 2 … Sean Wright
Reed 3 … Nicole Kuchinski
Reed 4 … Steven Blaine
Reed 5 … Maeve Lien
Horn … Derek Lewis
Trumpets … Will Belew; Joshua Tay
Trombones … Matt Wan; Kat Dobbins; Will Lombardelli
Percussion … Jacob Garcia
Drum Set … Paul Kwon
Harp … Ali Blake
Piano … David McGrory
Violins … Mariesther Alvarez; Julien Heller; Onur Dillsen;
Violins … Marielisa Alvarez; William Piquette; Si Eun Kim
Violas … Foxman James; Emily Lane
Cellos … Justin Dougherty; Mikel Thomas
String Bass … Daniel McDowell

Boston Conservatory Theater’s student production of FOLLIES does up this landmark musical the way it is meant to be: lavishly, with a large ensemble and a full orchestra --- as everyone knows, by now, I saw the original 1971 Broadway production which can never, ever be reproduced in terms of sets and costumes and its time-capsule cast, but of all the FOLLIES that I’ve seen, since then, the Conservatory’s production comes closest to calling back its ghost.

First, the production is set on the Conservatory’s stage with its own pipes and brick walls exposed --- automatic bedrock for this haunted house --- with flies for lowering and raising Loveland as dream and Loveland as nightmare --- rather than on a thrust or round one with minimal results. Second, the original book is used --- don’t be shocked, children; there’s been some trimming over the years (example: should you attend a FOLLIES where Phyllis swaps a few catty lines with a fellow showgirl after “Who’s That Woman?”, you’re listening to the original book) --- third, a quick glance at the cast list and orchestra, above, indicates that the Conservatory has quite the singing-dancing pool from which to draw and it has, it has: when fourteen (count ‘em --- fourteen) old showgirls line up for “Beautiful Girls” backed by two dozen singers, half a dozen ghosts and two Roscoes (old and young), or when you hear that iron-heavy but nimble sound of an army of tap-dancers in full throttle, or when “Loveland” is returned to its original chorus-boys and girls instead of recycling the old broads who otherwise disappear after “Who’s That Woman?”, you know such a FOLLIES can’t get better than this. There are a few nitpiks, of course, as the young women are already ripe, vocally and physically (quite a few, alluringly so) while the young men, by and large, still smack of the carpenter’s bench, and nothing can be more illusion-destroying than to repeatedly see the ensemble, ghosts included, cross upstage in the half-light to take their places for their next entrances, and there is a ghastly sabotage of “Losing My Mind”, the emotional high point of the evening: Sally stands on a box, stripped down to body stocking, listening to inserted mocking dialogue (who? what? WHY?) --- Lauren Lukacek, whose Sally up to now has been engaging, deluded and Sondheim-sweet, must now clutch a muslin curtain to her vulnerability while belting --- yes, belting --- this torch-song as yesterday’s power-ballad (all the more puzzling as the other three fantasies are correctly staged in period).

Still, someone has done some homework be it director Neil Donohoe or choreographer Michelle Chassé, or both --- the showgirl-ghosts drift with that classic sideways walk that emphasizes the roundness of hips and the slow parting and closing of legs; an exquisite contrast of youth versus simulated old age --- old age where the characters’ minds and hearts are young yet their shells are dragging or breaking down (when the entire ensemble marches out at curtain call, you can gauge Mr. Donohoe’s achievement as its sergeant) --- and Mr. Donohoe has dug deeper into the show’s psychology than the recent Lyric Stage production: Phyllis is no longer a mere bitch but a woman weighted down by layers of sophistication, self-applied, and Sally’s flightiness suggests the mood-swings of an alcoholic without being blatant. If Ms. Chassé’s choreography didn’t lift me out of my chair as the late Michael Bennett’s did, so long ago, she continued to make me sit up, number after number --- her own high point is “Buddy’s Blues”, of all things. Peter Waldron’s Loveland setting is lavish enough to signal that the evening has shifted gears, dramatically, and David Cabral’s period costumes are economically evocative.

FOLLIES’ scenes between the two unhappy couples alternate with the musical numbers; thus, there is an air of “meanwhile…” hanging over them and their impersonators must work uphill to dispel that impression. Of the four, only Hannah Jane McMurray’s Phyllis punches herself into three dimensions, all the more impressive as Ms. McMurray does very little, physically, relying on her stance, her tone, and her crystal-clear singing. I cannot recall when last I saw such a wedding of actor and role; Ms. McMurray’s characterization fits her like a snug, tight skin --- will she stay in the Boston area? I’ve yet to see a satisfying Ben --- he, too, should move very little, signaling his self-hate with his eyes, alone --- Robert Lance Mooney, however, spends much of his time looking down and thus dwindles as the evening grows: why are Phyllis and Sally fighting over him? Bud Weber makes a handsome, but lightweight Buddy --- but that is due to his youth, alone; give him time, oh, give him time --- his hoofing in “The Right Girl” is exuberant, at times alarmingly so: I thought he would surely topple into the orchestra with each spin or leap, so far downstage. Haley Selmon’s “Broadway Baby” and Lindsay Larson’s “I’m Still Here” were the evening’s favorites --- Ms. Selmon wisely substituting arthritis for mere cuteness and Ms. Larson, ample in all the right places, as a combination of earth mother and lush.

In conclusion, I walked away happy --- I have seen FOLLIES done as FOLLIES should be; with only a few performances left, this production will soon become, to quote Mr. Donohue in his notes, “a lovely, hazy, grainy memory of the past.” Call. Order tickets. And see FOLLIES for the first time, no matter how many times you think you’ve seen it, before…

"Follies" (22-26 October)
31 Hemenway Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 912-9222

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide