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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
FOLLIES
at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (D.C.)

LOVELAND
By BILL STEVENSON

  Jenifer Foote, Danny Burstein and Kiira Schmidt/ Ph: Joan Marcus

One of Stephen Sondheim’s greatest musicals, Follies demands a large, high-wattage cast as well as quite a large budget. The Kennedy Center’s new production has both. It cost $7 million and stars Bernadette Peters, Jan Maxwell, Danny Burstein, Ron Raines, Elaine Paige and Linda Lavin. Even with those resources, Follies is still a tricky musical to pull off. Luckily, director Eric Schaeffer (head of the Signature Theatre) has staged it with intelligence and affection. The result is a highly satisfying production that is well worth the trip to Washington, D.C.
 
James Goldman wrote the smart book about aging chorus girls revisiting the theater where they performed as pretty young things. The past is dredged up, along with myriad regrets. The year is 1971, and the Weismann Follies (think Ziegfeld Follies) have been closed for 30 years. Now the theater is about to become a parking lot. Two couples who met in the follies are at the heart of the action. Sally Durant Plummer (Peters) is married to Buddy (Burstein), and her onetime roommate Phyllis Stone (Maxwell) is married to big shot Ben Stone (Raines). They’re still handsome couples, but both marriages are on the rocks. And, as it turns out, Sally is still in love with Ben.
 
Peters may look a bit too glamorous in her red gown to be totally convincing as the self-doubting Sally. But her exquisite renditions of “In Buddies Eyes” and “Losing My Mind” are alone worth the price of admission. They’re right up there with her “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music, proving that Peters (along with Barbara Cook) is our leading Sondheim interpreter. More surprisingly, Peters also shows that she’s not a bad tap dancer in the rousing group number “Who’s That Woman?” That crowd pleaser is led by Stella (a terrific Terri White) and features clever choreography by Warren Carlyle that has the older women dancing with their younger selves (and each other). Schaeffer also does a nice job of mixing the ghostly presence of the 1920s and ’30s Weismann girls with the main characters.
 
Although the first act moves somewhat slowly at times, the big solos don’t disappoint. Lavin doesn’t have a powerful voice, but she caps “Broadway Baby” with a big finish. Paige’s “I’m Still Here” starts out rather tentatively, in part because she is seated and singing to a group of men around her. When Paige gets up and amps up the volume, she ultimately does justice to Sondheim’s iconic ode to theatrical survivors. Maxwell looks more elegant than ever as society wife Phyllis, and she delivers a fiery version of the caustic “Could I Leave You?”
 
Schaeffer and Carlyle do a wonderful job with the Loveland section, in which Sally, Buddy, Phyllis and Ben (both older and younger versions) perform follies-style numbers. Burstein’s “Buddy’s Blues” is just right, Maxwell does her best to be a sultry hoofer in “The Story of Lucy and Jessie,” and Raines shows off his rich voice on “Live, Laugh, Love.” Best of all, though, is Peters’ indelible “Losing My Mind.”
 
Both Schaeffer’s staging and the performances peak in the difficult Loveland section. Gregg Barnes’ dazzling costumes and Derek McLane’s rosy set are also at their most colorful during the Loveland numbers. It’s the exciting climax of a beautifully executed revival.
 


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