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Review Roundup: FOLLIES at the Kennedy Center - UPDATED!

The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts' production of Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman's FOLLIES officially opened on May 21, 2011. The reviews for the show are still coming in and we've got a roundup of all the reviews below!

The cast features two-time Tony winner Bernadette Peters as Sally Durant Plummer, four-time Tony nominee Jan Maxwell as Phyllis Rogers Stone, two-time Tony nominee Danny Burstein as Buddy Plummer, Ron Raines as Benjamin Stone and Olivier Award winner Elaine Paige as Carlotta Campion. 

The production also stars Terrence Currier as Theodore Whitman, Christian Delcroix as Young Buddy, Rosalind Elias as Heidi Schiller, Colleen Fitzpatrick as Dee Dee West, Lora LeeGayer as Young Sally, Michael Hayes as Roscoe, Florence Laceyas Sandra Crane, Linda Lavin as Hattie Walker, Régine as Solange LaFitte, David Sabin as Dimitri Weismann, Kirsten Scott as Young Phyllis, Frederick Strother as Max Deems, Nick Verina as Young Ben, Susan Watson as Emily Whitman and Terri White as Stella Deems.

Follies will run through June 19, 2011 in the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. The production features a book by James Goldman and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and is directed by Eric Schaeffer with choreography by Warren CarlyleJames Moore serves as music director and will conduct the 28-piece Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra.

Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal: One of the signal achievements of this "Follies" is that it succeeds in untangling each and every strand of the show's knotty plot. Most of the credit belongs to Eric Schaeffer, the director, whose Signature Theatre has produced more Sondheim revivals than any other regional theater company in America. Mr. Schaeffer is clearly unafraid of the darkness of "Follies," so much so that the first act is bitter enough to sting. Yet he and Warren Carlyle, the choreographer, just as clearly revel in the richness of the knowing pastiche songs with which Mr. Sondheim evokes the popular music of the prerock era. It helps that they were given a budget big enough to produce "Follies" on a grand scale-and to hire a top-flight set designer, Broadway's Derek McLane, with enough imagination to make the most of the materials at hand.

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: "It wasn't until the second act that I fell in love all over again with "Follies," a show that had broken my heart many times in the past. Up to that point of the Kennedy Center revival of James Goldman and Stephen Sondheim's brave and beautiful musical from 1971, I'd been feeling as if I had hooked up with an old flame I'd been longing to see, only to find a snuffed candle.

"Oh, lord," I thought disconsolately a few minutes into the slow-creeping opening scene of Eric Schaeffer's starry production, which was looking as if it might depress itself into a coma. "Is this what I'm spending the night with?"

Yet almost as soon as the curtain rose on the second act at the Eisenhower Theater here, I was showing all the familiar symptoms of deep infatuation: increased pulse rate, welling eyes and an overwhelming urge to beat my hands together until they stung."

Peter Marks, The Washington Post: "The Kennedy Center's grim and glittery new revival of "Follies" takes an audience halfway to paradise. As itineraries go in the musical theater, that's no insignificant distance.

Blessed with some crackling performances - especially by a broodingly luminous Jan Maxwell as a leggy ex-showgirl licking her wounds, and by Danny Burstein playing a hapless onetime stage-door Johnny - the luxe treatment of Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman's landmark '70s musical of shattered midlife illusions has its share of startling delights. Chief among them: the show's final 20 minutes, when we ascend with the main characters into an ironic vaudeville dreamscape of assorted neuroses - the most intoxicating articulation of the musical's "Loveland" sequence that I've ever seen."

Variety: "Nine years after impressing the theater world with its six-production festival of musicals by Stephen Sondheim, the Kennedy Center is back with the exclamation point -- the colossal 1971 Sondheim-James Goldman tuner "Follies." The lavish and entirely satisfying production includes a full orchestra, eye-popping designs and a 40-person cast headed by Bernadette Peters.

Eric Schaeffer, the a.d. of Arlington, Va.'s Signature Theater who helmed the 2002 festival, returns to direct this melancholy turn about two loveless couples attending a reunion of entertainers at a theater where they once performed. Schaeffer does so in methodical fashion, building progressively to a crescendo exactly as Sondheim does with so many of his stirring melodies. Several show-stopping routines are provided by choreographer Warren Carlyle.

This $7.3 million revival, five years in the making, is endowed with a virtual embarrassment of riches, beginning with the cast. Along with Peters as the terminally remorseful Sally Durant Plummer, other principals are Jan Maxwell as the cynical and experienced Phyllis, Ron Raines as Phyllis' self-satisfied husband Benjamin and Danny Burstein as Sally's suffering hubby, Buddy. The show's second tier of returning hoofers offers a real-life reunion of showbiz titans that includes Linda Lavin, Elaine Page, Rosaline Elias, Colleen Fitzpatrick, Florence Lacey, Regine and Terri White."

Brad Hathway, Arlington Connection: Long-time Signature Theatre-goers will want to compare and contrast this production of "Follies" with the one Eric Schaeffer directed at Signature in 2003. At a reported budget of over $7 million, this one is much more opulent than the earlier one. Its image of the dilapidated and distressed theater where the reunion is held is darker and towers multiple stories above the playing space, something that was simply impossible in the height-challenged "Garage" that was Signature's space at the time. Schaeffer's direction is tighter and emphasizes story lines a bit clearer, and of course, the presence of such international talent is impressive. But, then, so was the cast in 2003. Anyone who saw the earlier one will want to see this one. Those who didn't might check this one out so they won't have missed both.

Trey Graham, Washington City Paper: Luscious as the design and the playing are, they're not a patch on the riches of the leading performances. Peters emerges from behind the façade of that dress in due time, shading her essential vulnerability with a desperate, dangerous blend of pure need and poisonous delusion; when Sally sings about how happy she is, knowing she's always beautiful "In Buddy's Eyes," you get the awful sense she's protesting a little much. Danny Burstein, appealingly schlubby as the alienated, unfaithful husband who's the subject of that tune, fires his own number on the subject ("The Right Girl") with a crackling energy that's part rage, part self-loathing, only to flip that mix on its head in the brittle yocka-yocka vaudeville of "Buddy's Blues."

Micy Frederick, casting may not be pitch perfect, but Schaeffer's Follies succeeds because it wreaks havoc on the emotions -- as we watch beloved characters spiral downward, it's hard not to be awash in feelings of our own regrets and missed opportunities. It's not just an old theater that gets haunted here.

Brendan Lemon: Financial TimesLinda Lavin does not belt but acts "Broadway Baby" and Elaine Paige expertly calibrates the showbiz saga "I'm Still Here". For me, however, the memorable main performance is that of Danny Burstein as Buddy Plummer. In "Buddy's Blues" he melds his frustrated present and the ghost of his youthful past in heartbreaking fashion. Yet you don't catch him acting: highest praise.

Tim Smith, Baltimore Sun: The vibrant cast, directed with a generally effective touch by Eric Schaeffer, can really dig into the material. Many of the participants seem to convey rich chapters of autobiography just by the way they make their entrances at the start of the show, how they go about taking "one more glimpse of the past."

Leslie Milk, WashingtonianEric Schaeffer gets credit for a fabulous show. Sometimes bigger is better, no matter what they say in Shirlington.

Barbara Mackay, Washington Examiner: The clash between past glamour and present reality makes "Follies" a rich and poignant musical. Without sinking into sentimentality or cynicism, this production, carefully directed by Eric Schaeffer, highlights that richness and poignancy.

Matt Windman, AM New York: Unfortunately, Schaeffer's staging is workmanlike, lazy and marked by an ugly set design. "Follies" has a tricky book that can feel one-dimensional if not done well. Here, you sense that the lead performers would benefit from a director who could better emphasize the complex character relationships. Schaeffer is also unable to integrate the ghosts with the rest of the cast, leaving just a handful to linger mindlessly above the cast throughout the show.

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