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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
FOLLIES
at Marquis Theatre

GHOSTS OF MUSICALS PAST
By MATT WINDMAN

  Ph: Joan Marcus

There is nothing quite like Follies, Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s massive and masterful 1971 musical about former showgirls and their husbands reuniting at the theater where they once starred in Ziegfeld-style revues on the eve of its destruction.

Ironically, the revival is playing in the Marquis Theatre, which was constructed on the site of five historic theaters that were torn down in the early 1980s. You can’t help but wonder if the thespians who played in those theaters are watching over this revival as real ghosts.

Sondheim’s score, full of show-stopping production numbers and ballads, is truly an embarrassment of riches. But at the same time, Follies is a devastating portrait of self-denial and regret among two unhappy marriages and the crumbling of a formerly prominent and pristine show-business universe.

As the curtain rises, it is apparent that the derelict theater is haunted by the eternally young ghosts of each showgirl, who will now be joined by their older selves.

Sally (Bernadette Peters), who married salesman Buddy (Danny Burstein) and became a hopelessly depressed housewife, still harbors feelings for her former beau Ben (Ron Raines), who picked Sally’s sarcastic gal pal Phyllis (Jan Maxwell) as his wife and has since become a rich, emotionally distant diplomat.

While the other guests drink, mingle and swap life stories, these four individuals are forced to confront the lies on which they have built their adult lives.

Unlike many other Sondheim musicals that have received scaled-down revivals in recent years, Follies cannot be downsized, as proven by Roundabout’s embarrassing 2001 production. The Paper Mill Playhouse, which produced an extremely lavish revival in 1998, was slated for a Broadway run, but it never materialized. The 2007 City Center Encores! production also failed to transfer in spite of strong reviews.

Eric Schaeffer’s large-scale production, which features a 41-member cast and a 28-piece orchestra, originated at the Kennedy Center. When I reviewed the show back in May during its premiere in Washington, D.C., I felt comfortable predicting that the production would definitely not transfer to New York. It wasn’t good enough. At least at that time. So imagine my surprise when it was confirmed that the show would in fact come to New York. 

To everyone’s luck, the production has significantly improved since the Kennedy Center run, with the staging cleaned up and the performances deepened emotionally. Jane Houdyshell is a terrific addition to the cast, bringing eager spirit to the hoofer tribute “Broadway Baby.”

Peters paints Sally with the innocence and frenzy of a child. Even if we know it’s a hopeless case, she firmly convinces herself that Ben will finally leave Phyllis and marry her. Burstein tries to reach out to her, but it’s no use. She’s lost in dreamland and will probably always be.

Burstein violently throws himself into the role of Buddy, bringing the character’s pent-up anger to manic heights. His mixture of hyper comedy and tragic awareness resembles the clown Pagliacci.  

Maxwell, who is better known as a dramatic actress, proves that she can handle a demanding musical role. At first she appears cool and confident, but is rocked emotionally in “Could I Leave You?” Raines, as her husband, credibly portrays Ben’s downward spiral from cocky self-denial into helplessness.

Page, one of Britain’s most well-known actresses, delivers a raging rendition of “I’m Still Here” as the actress Carlotta.     

 


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