This past Sunday afternoon, I saw the Tony-nominated production of Follies at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angles, CA. Minus Bernadette Peters (replaced by a sensational Victoria Clark) and a few other performers, it was pretty much the same Broadway cast. Having never seen Follies, but only hearing it, I knew I was in for a musical unlike many others. Having just seen another Sondheim show for the first time (Assassins) I was ready and willing to experience all that Sondheim has to tell through Follies. After seeing this show, I am not surprised about the Tony-nominations it has received, and would not be surprised if this one takes home the award for Best Revival. Follies is a hit; and there’s no doubt about it!
Follies has a very simple plot, with a very detailed execution. It’s 1971 and there is a theatre reunion of chorus girls, boys, and leads as the company celebrates their fond memories of the Weismann Theater. We are immediately introuced to two married (not happily) couples. We have the Plummers (Victoria Clark playing Sally and Danny Burstein playing Buddy) and the Stones (Jan Maxwell playing Phyllis and Ron Raines playing Ben). Through scenes and songs performed by these four remarkable actors, as well by their younger counterparts, we relive these couples’ youth, and get an insightful view as to what choices they made which led them to where they are today as adults.
To try and point out individual highlights would just be a waste of time, because every member of this cast has precise moments of brilliance framed with a performance of commitment and nuance. Terri White (Stella) and the ladies tap away with a show stopping act 1 number in “Who’s That Woman.” Immediately following is a beautiful display as to why Elaine Paige (Carlotta) is a Broadway legend with her turn at “I’m Still Here.” Her dazzling vocals and presence make this solo a song to remember and to play on repeat when hearing the cast recording. The ensemble supports their leads all throughout the show with impeccable dancing and stellar vocals.
Our four leads. Wow. 3 of the 4 are nominated for Tony Awards, and the only reason Clark is not is because she took over for Bernadette Peters. Each lead has their turn in Act 2 with their own follies performance, and they make for quite a spectacle. Danny Burstein and Jan Maxwell razzle and dazzle the audience with their song and dance performance, while Clark and Raines show the power of standing and singing. Clark has the power of “less is more” illuminating her on stage, while Raines committed troubled character gives the audience a sense of sympathy. Maxwell shows off her power of nuance, playing Phyllis with an internal struggle from the get go, and just letting it unfold throughout the show. Burstein proves he’s not just a good voice with comic timing and line delivering genius; the man can move on that stage right along with the rest of them.
Production values are top notch for this Broadway transfer. The costumes (Gregg Barnes) are gorgeous in every way possible. The lighting (Natasha Katz) and set design (Derek McLane) cause the audience to be catapulted into this distressed theater while still giving us a very personal look at these characters laying out their lives and regrets right before us. The choreography (Warren Carlyle) was brilliant, told the story, and was a star of its own. And to bring it all together, director Eric Schaeffer’s staging and character work was fabulous and powerful. His use of the chorus girl ghosts throughout the show (representing the younger days of our beloved leads) are poignant and act as the icing on a wonderfully baked cake of a show.
If you have the opportunity to see this Sondheim masterpiece, go see it! It is a musical unlike most; and it is difficult for me to accept that it could be successfully staged by any other level of theatre. The Broadway caliber adds so much to this unique theatrical piece, that it would be a musical crime no to go enjoy it. So go see a show!