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James Goldman's book to Follies

rattleNwoolypenguin
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James Goldman's book to Follies#1
Posted: 8/26/17 at 1:09pm

 

This may be a wildly unpopular opinion, but what's always been appealing about the idea of a film adaptation of Follies, is getting a screenwriter who takes James Goldman's original book and just...gives it more meat. I just feel like there is so much more potential for the four characters to be drawn stronger. The original book feels a little like the main four are archetypes at times. They behave so cruelly and immaturely to each other, and most of the empathy you feel comes from Sondheim's lyrics. The dialogue is very terse. Almost like "What is necessary for the plot" type of dialogue as apposed to really learning these people like you do in other Sondheim books written by James Lapine or Hugh Wheeler. Also, I've always been deeply confused by the moment with Ben and Sally that immediately follows "Too Many Mornings". The song is intensely romantic and feels very real and not false, so when the action breaks and what follows-it's just always thrown me.

 

 

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James Goldman's book to Follies#2
Posted: 8/26/17 at 1:46pm

Yeah, extremely unpopular opinion, I think the book to Follies is a grating, sneering, hamfisted bore. I was shocked when I finally saw the show in its last revival. I know the book has undergone a lot of revisions, but I couldn't believe how obvious and broad it was given the sensitivity and psychological richness of the score. I almost wondered why we had these wonderful songs to subtly reveal the characters, when the characters walk out onstage and announce who they are with such bluntness. I know this is sacrilige to many of the people who were in their formative years when the original production arrived, but I think it almost equals Merrily We Roll Along for such unfortunate dissonance between the strength of Sondheim's work and the strength of his writing partner's. 

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James Goldman's book to Follies#3
Posted: 8/26/17 at 1:55pm

I don't think it's truly that unpopular of an opinion to believe the book is the weakest aspect of the show. It is, isn't it? The score is a masterpiece, very few book writers would've been able to equal that score. The 1971 book is harsher, more cynical, and more depressing than all of the other revisions. For many Follies fanatics, that is the BEST version of the problematic book, and I would have to agree. Too many revisions have tried to softening the book, in turn, it sometimes feels like you're getting a cliff notes version of what was presented in 1971. I am truly thrilled to hear that the new National Theater production seems to be sticking  closer to the original book than any other major revival we've seen. 

Updated On: 8/26/17 at 01:55 PM
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James Goldman's book to Follies#4
Posted: 8/26/17 at 1:58pm

There's a reason why so many productions of the show end up being awful. Like Company, it's a show that entirely rests on the shoulders of the director, who needs to provide a 100% perfect production to prevent audience members from praying for the sweet release of death.

edit in response to ljay: yes, the original book is the darkest and nastiest, but it's also about as subtle as being punched in the face. "I should have died the first time" — what kind of dialogue is thatTalk about ham-fisted.

"In memory, everything happens to music"
Updated On: 8/26/17 at 01:58 PM
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James Goldman's book to Follies#5
Posted: 8/26/17 at 2:18pm

Dorothy Collins delivered those finale lines to perfection, as can be heard on the soundboard recordings. Sally's suicide attempts are referenced throughout the original book. Sure it's a little heavy handed, but extremely powerful if you have a Sally deliver it like Collins. I'm sure Staunton does it right. 

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James Goldman's book to Follies#6
Posted: 8/26/17 at 2:37pm

I really love the book. The scenes around "Too Many Mornings" make me cry. And the confrontations after "Who's That Woman?" are very well written. "We haven't had an honest talk in thirty years: you think the Japs will win the war?"

"Sticks and stones, sister. Here, have a Valium." - Patti LuPone, a Memoir
After Eight
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James Goldman's book to Follies#7
Posted: 8/26/17 at 9:52pm

Basically, it's a cold fish of a musical. All four lead characters are unlikable. The book is dreary; the score the same.

 

Leave it lie, already.

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James Goldman's book to Follies#8
Posted: 8/26/17 at 10:42pm

After Eight said: "All four lead characters are unlikable. The book is dreary

 

"

I actually agree the characters are a bit unlikable and the book is dreary - though personally this is one of the reasons I find the show so interesting. When you walked into the Marquis the set was ugly, plain and dreary (in a good way - it's a run-down theatre). And while it has a few lively moments, it is a relentless show of people at their worst (but to me, this is a much more realistic reflection of humanity than "Put On Your Sunday Clothes"James Goldman's book to Follies. I just remember Bernadette's catatonic, droopy face and slumped shoulders at the end of the last revival when she realised "there is no Ben for me" (contrast this to her girlish excitement in "Don't Look At Me"James Goldman's book to Follies. Depressing. 

Someone on the recent London production on that popular UK board said it was the most fun they've ever had in a theatre..it's hard not to feel a little suspect. What show did they see? The show isn't, for the most part, fun.

I can understand why people would hate the show. Why would they want to be reminded that we can waste our lives with a partner that never really loved us? Or waste our lives with a partner we don't love - and the one we do love, doesn't love us back. Or that we probably might have made the wrong decisions in our life time and time again but can't go back to fix them because it's too late - and we only have 'one more kiss' left. It think it takes a certain type of person to enjoy the show - maybe one that likes to wallow in pain. I personally would not recommend the show to most of my family and friends, even though it's one of my favourites.

 

I often post here on my phone, so please excuse issues with grammar, paragraphing and spelling :).
Updated On: 8/26/17 at 10:42 PM
After Eight
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James Goldman's book to Follies#9
Posted: 8/27/17 at 12:34am

Qolbinau wrote: "it is a relentless show of people at their worst (but to me, this is a much more realistic reflection of humanity than "Put On Your Sunday Clothes""

 

I don't think it's a realistic reflection of humanity in the slightest, since humanity is not a relentless display of people at their worst. Follies is simply a mean, cold, dreary piece of work that wallows in its own misery and enjoys shoving that misery in the faces of the audience.

Whereas "Put on Your Sunday Clothes " is a wonderful song that offers good advice on how to deal with and triumph over the moments when you feel down and out.

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James Goldman's book to Follies#10
Posted: 8/27/17 at 1:22am

" Whereas "Put on Your Sunday Clothes " is a wonderful song that offers good advice on how to deal with and triumph over the moments when you feel down and out." 

I thought that was the function of some of those shows on daytime TV, not the theatre.

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James Goldman's book to Follies#11
Posted: 8/27/17 at 1:30am

I thought we agreed to let AfterHate yell into the void without response like the Sondheim character he is.

"Sticks and stones, sister. Here, have a Valium." - Patti LuPone, a Memoir
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James Goldman's book to Follies#12
Posted: 8/27/17 at 6:30am
Oh good.

After Hate appearing in this thread as Carlotta singing the 11 o’clock funeral dirge version of I’m Still Here Bitches.
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James Goldman's book to Follies#13
Posted: 8/27/17 at 7:03am

I can appreciate Follies for what it is. It's just a boring show with an absolutely dismal book. The score is quite lovely, but everything else falls flat for me. I don't think Put on Your Sunday Clothes is an even worthy comparison; Follies and Hello Dolly are two completely different shows. I don't see the need to compare them. Mainly because one is dull and the other is a good, fun show.

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James Goldman's book to Follies#14
Posted: 8/27/17 at 9:01am

The problem with FOLLIES for me has always been that when the characters sing they are vivid, individuated, and fascinating but when they talk they are almost always blandly pretentious.

The problem is not the book's gravity.  It's that the gravity of the book scenes is sprung on us.  We are told that what's happening is serious ****.  It is only in the songs that the gravity becomes shown/earned.  

And that's largely a function of the characters being uninteresting and or merely brittle and or downright bitchy when they speak and multi-faceted, ironic, at times profound, but always fully human when they sing.

Likability as a theatrical necessity is not likability in the usual sense of the word.  It's not that we would necessarily like or want to hang out with these people in real life.  It's that as characters they interest us.   The characters in FOLLIES can't help interest (most of) us deeply when they sing.   But they fail to interest at all a great many of us when they aren't singing.  In non-lyrical (in both senses of the word) moments, some of us find them to be downright boring.

There are many shows in which the book and the songs aren't well balanced, but to me none more than FOLLIES.  While Sondheim brought poetry to middle aged (and plus) longing and neurosis, Goldman stirred it into pablum.  

Updated On: 8/28/17 at 09:01 AM
yfs
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James Goldman's book to Follies#15
Posted: 8/27/17 at 12:19pm

henrikegerman said: "The problem with FOLLIES for me has always been that when the characters sing they are vivid, individuated, and fascinating but when they talk they are almost always blandly pretentious.

Interesting. The problem with FOLLIES for me is that I don't get to see the original production of it every damn day of my life. It was crushing, and one of the most profound experiences I've ever had in the theatre, which includes a long list, from Marat/Sade to Angels in America. It was right up there, and the only other musical I can think of that would be on that list is Gypsy. It ain't perfect, but crushing, yes. 

 

bk
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James Goldman's book to Follies#16
Posted: 8/28/17 at 12:14am

But all the people complaining about the dreary old book haven't seen the original production.  My favorite, of course, is when people, in order to look like they know whereof they speak, lie and say they did, even though one later finds out they weren't even born then :)  (And yes, that's happened.)  The book scenes played brilliantly in the original production because the actors were amazing, spoke the lines well, and had co-directors who knew what they were doing.  I don't want to hear criticisms of the book based on any of the revivals because there has yet to be a revival that's come anywhere near the original production - maybe London this year will change that - I remain ever hopeful.  But I just roll my eyes at the complainers of the book who then admit they are basing those complaints on the recent revival or the Roundabout revival - neither of which DID the original book.  And it's not enough to just read the old published script - the actors and directors made it work beautifully.  I will defend it forever.  

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James Goldman's book to Follies#17
Posted: 8/28/17 at 12:58am

After Eight said: "Qolbinau wrote: "it is a relentless show of people at their worst (but to me, this is a much more realistic reflection of humanity than "Put On Your Sunday Clothes""

 

I don't think it's a realistic reflection of humanity in the slightest, since humanity is not a relentless display of people at their worst. Follies is simply a mean, cold, dreary piece of work that wallows in its own misery and enjoys shoving that misery in the faces of the audience.

Whereas "Put on Your Sunday Clothes " is a wonderful song that offers good advice on how to deal with and triumph over the moments when you feel down and out.


 

"

What an odd opinion, After Eight. Because you sound like a character from FOLLIES every time you post.

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James Goldman's book to Follies#18
Posted: 8/28/17 at 1:01am

bk, you speak as though the words written on the page have no bearing on the stage production. Also, the soundboard recording exists. one can get the intonation of the actors from that. I highly doubt that the facial features of actors that you probably saw from thirty yards away had so much bearing on the performances that I would go from thinking that the original book was a shoddy and unsubtle piece of work to being a masterwork of American drama.

There are many Follies fans, I've met many intelligent ones, but the one thing that they have in common is their utter condescension and disdain for people who don't like the musical. Any criticisms that one has for it is immediately answered by "well, you didn't see the original so you don't know what you're talking about". Like, I never saw Laurette Taylor in The Glass Menagerie but I can still comment on the strengths of that play and the character of Amanda. 

Also, hey, if a show needs a production of such insane quality in order for people to appreciate it, maybe it's not that great of a show in the first place.

"In memory, everything happens to music"
Updated On: 8/28/17 at 01:01 AM
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James Goldman's book to Follies#19
Posted: 8/28/17 at 1:05am

BakerWilliams said: "...
edit in response to ljay: yes, the original book is the darkest and nastiest, but it's also about as subtle as being punched in the face. "I should have died the first time" — what kind of dialogue is thatTalk about ham-fisted.

 

"

It's been a long time since I saw the show in 1971, but IIRC, Sally tried to commit suicide when she discovered she was pregnant around the time Ben dumped her. Buddy stepped in to pick up the pieces because he loved her.

The line about the "first time" wasn't so ham-fisted in context when it served to explain so much of the Buddy/Sally/Ben trio within the quartet.

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James Goldman's book to Follies#20
Posted: 8/28/17 at 1:05am

Bk wrote: "But all the people complaining about the dreary old book haven't seen the original production."

 

I saw the original production twice. Yes, indeed, Dorothy Collins and Alexis Smith were wonderful, and did wonders to make up for the show's flaws. So too was the design dazzling. But the book was still dreary, the characters unpalatable, and the show sour and labored.

Updated On: 8/28/17 at 01:05 AM
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James Goldman's book to Follies#21
Posted: 8/28/17 at 1:09am

GavestonPS, I've read Goldman's original book. I have the Random House hardback edition that was published back in the 1970s. I think that line in particular exemplifies the unsubtle writing of the show, which is overly blunt to the point of dulling the show's intended mysterious delicacy crossed with deep rage.

"In memory, everything happens to music"
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James Goldman's book to Follies#22
Posted: 8/28/17 at 1:12am

Can we please page Pal Joey to this thread. 

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James Goldman's book to Follies#23
Posted: 8/28/17 at 1:15am

I too saw the original twice and the book scenes cracked like a whip!

I agree with those who think the problem with the revivals has been the attempts to make the show and its characters "likable". ("Likable" in the sense henrikegermann articulates above. I'm not saying I want Sally to move into my house.)

I'm with those who hope the NT production allows the show to be what it was. And in return I promise not to disdain those who don't find it their cup of tea.

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James Goldman's book to Follies#24
Posted: 8/28/17 at 1:17am

BakerWilliams said: "...Also, hey, if a show needs a production of such insane quality in order for people to appreciate it, maybe it's not that great of a show in the first place.

 

"

By that logic, MADAMA BUTTERFLY isn't a great opera because middle schoolers can't sing it. HAMLET is a crummy play because it doesn't work without an extraordinary actor in the title role.

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James Goldman's book to Follies#25
Posted: 8/28/17 at 1:20am

Baker Williams, I don't care a fig if you or anyone else likes the musical.  When you make with the snappy posts about how bad the book is and how you can tell everything from the written word and a sound board tape, people who feel differently get to voice their opinions about your opinion, and sometimes, wait for it now, those opinions will be the opposite of yours.  You think the book sucks, I don't.  Life goes on.  You know, just for comparison sake - I loathed the revival of A Chorus Line.  And the people who were seeing it for the first time or who had never seen the original cast were doing exactly what you and others are doing now - oh, it's not all that, oh the book is cliched, what did people see in this show.  Well, theater is a living, breathing animal and sometimes the original production of a show is so perfectly cast and staged that of course it informs the material being presented in a way that reading A Chorus Line from a script cannot.  I read The Glass Menagerie and I appreciate it on the page, but not as much as when I see a superb production, which I have twice now.  Then it's a whole different ball of tomatoes, my friend.  

Those of us who were lucky to experience Follies as it was originally done, well, the people I know feel that it was the finest theater experience ever.  Some, like After Eight, differ with that opinion and that's fine.  While the show was dark and not a frothy Hello, Dolly, it did what it set out to do - examine the failures of the leads' lives.  Some might find that dreary, some might find it touching and illuminating, and some others will find it hits so close to home as to be VERY uncomfortable.  Musicals do not live on the page, they live on the stage - how they are done on the stage impacts the writing to the good AND to the bad.  Every time they muck around with the book they lessen what the show was about in trying to make it palatable for folks who found it dreary and unpalatable.   And it hasn't worked, so why bother in the first place.


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