Review - Follies: Most Things Bright And Beautiful
While the 182 previews, numerous postponements and drastic changes in the creative team experienced by the current tenant of the Foxwoods Theatre might serve as some indication that musical theatre ain't easy, the real proof of the art form's difficulty can now be observed in its rapturously imperfect glory at the Marquis.
Forty years ago three geniuses (and one respectably accomplished playwright) envisioned a musical so ambitious and sophisticated that not even they could make it completely work; their creation disinteresting as many as it enraptured, winning 7 Tony Awards but losing the prize for Best Musical and running a respectable, but disappointing, 522 performances. With every major revival, Follies has been tweaked a bit - sometimes a bit more - in an attempt to make the whole come off as smartly, intricately and downright brilliantly as the individual values of its score (Stephen Sondheim), book (James Goldman) and concept (originally melded together by co-directors Harold Prince and choreographer Michael Bennett).
I won't say director Eric Schaeffer has figured it out with his terrifically acted Kennedy Center transfer, but I'll also say that any negative comment made in this review should not be misinterpreted as an attempt to discourage anyone from immediately putting this show at the top of their must-see list. Moments of Follies that don't quite work are nevertheless more worthy of a theatre-goer's attention than the most perfected moments of any other musical offering currently on the Broadway boards. Parents of ten-year-olds who have been begging to be taken to Mary Poppins or The Lion King should bring them to Follies instead. They won't understand a bit of it, but their lives will have been enriched forever for having heard the words and the music.
The year is 1971 and the theatre where the Ziegfeld-like impresario Dimitri Weismann (David Sabin) once staged a new edition of his Follies every year between the two great wars is being torn down to put up a parking lot. It's the eve of destruction and he's throwing a reunion party at the crumbling old playhouse for all who at one time or another performed in his employ.
The plot revolves around two couples, former chorines Sally and Phyllis (Bernadette Peters and Jan Maxwell) and their respective husbands, former stage-door Johnnies Buddy and Ben (Danny Burstein and Ron Raines). Though the four used to double-date in the old days, both of the women were stuck on the ambitious Ben, who would eventually become world famous in business, politics and philanthropy. The self-absorbed Ben made promises to Sally and perhaps even loved her, but instead married Phyllis, who was willing to reinvent herself as the kind of educated, cultured partner deemed appropriate for a man of his upward mobility. Thirty years later, Phyllis has become the stone-hearted cynic from decades of Ben's inattentiveness. Sally rebounded to marry Buddy, who spends much of his time on the road as a salesman, but has always pined for the one who got away. And while Buddy claims to have never stopped loving his wife, her unaffectionate manner leads him to a long-term affair with a younger woman who shows him constant devotion. While Phyllis and Buddy eventually notice how Ben and Sally are tentatively kindling old flames, ghostlike figures of their younger selves (Christian Delcroix, Lora Lee Gayer, Kirsten Scott and Nick Verina) play out their happiest and most disturbing memories.
Meanwhile, Follies is loaded with supporting roles - each of which is also represented by a ghostlike memory - who speak very few lines but are featured in pastiche numbers that recall their on-stage glories. Don Correia and Susan Watson are adorably spry singing and dancing their flirtatious novelty number, "Rain on the Roof," Mary Beth Peil luxuriates in continental elegance with "Ah! Paris" and Jayne Houdyshell joyously belts out "Broadway Baby" with an unabashedly sunny smile. 82-year-old opera star Rosalind Elias makes a distinguished Broadway debut with the operetta dramatics of "One More Kiss" (a duet with the enchantingly-voiced Leah Horowitz as her younger self), which is presented as a commentary on the main plot and Terri White's powerful, smoky vocals, self-effacing humor and spirited tap dancing leads the ladies in "Who's That Woman?," a number that has the confused older women trying to remember their parts as the youthful dancers reflect their past expertise.