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Follies: Flawless With a Flourish



Book by James Goldman       Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Directed by Spiro Veloudos, Musical Direction by Jonathan Goldberg

Choreography by Ilyse Robbins; Scenic Design, Janie E. Howland; Costume Design, Rafael Jaen; Lighting Design, Scott Clyve; Production Stage Manager, Robin Grady; Assistant Stage Manager, Nerys Powell

CAST (in alphabetical order): Frank Aronson, Leigh Barrett, Emilie Battle, Jordan Kai Burnett, Peter A. Carey, Kerrin Elizabeth Clark, Phil Crumrine, Michele DeLuca, Aimee Doherty, Caitlin Crosbie Doonan, Larry Daggett, Kerry Dowling, Jennifer Beth Glick, Curly Glynn, Mark Linehan, Jacqui Parker, Deb Poppel, April Pressel, David Sharrocks, Bobbie Steinbach, Kathy St. George, Dawn Tucker, Arthur Waldstein, Chuck Walsh, Michael Wood, Maryann Zschau

Performances through October 11, 2008 at The Lyric Stage Company of Boston

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 In a darkened theatre, slightly dissonant, wispy, and ethereal sounds emanate from the unseen orchestra as two dark figures slowly splay the beams of their flashlights around the thrust stage, up into the rigging, and over the audience. They seem to be searching for something long since past, when beautifully costumed ghostly women in white and black glide in from the wings to personify a memory. Midway through the overture the music builds to a stronger, livelier rhythm and nattily dressed present day characters parade in excitedly from all corners. The show and the party are underway.

The 2008-2009 season of the Lyric Stage Company is off to a glorious start with Follies, winner of seven Tony awards in 1971, including Best Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Best Director (Harold Prince), and Best Choreography (Michael Bennett). I predict that this production will also be well honored at the next IRNE Awards ceremony as Director Spiro Veloudos has collaborated with the highest caliber design team and cast. Many of Boston's best singer/actresses are in the house for this one - Leigh Barrett (Sally), Maryann Zschau (Phyllis), Kathy St. George (Solange), Jacqui Parker (Hattie), and Kerry Dowling (Stella), for starters - and Peter A. Carey (Buddy) and Larry Daggett (Ben) as the leading men are their equals every step (and note) of the way. The combination of veterans and actors who are new to the Lyric effectively gives the ensemble the feeling of stability and tradition, as well as freshness and continuity.

Follies takes place in 1971 on the eve of the demolition of a grand New York theatre. Impresario Dimitri Weismann hosts the first and last reunion for his former performers to celebrate their earlier glories. When two of the middle-aged couples reunite after thirty years, they reflect on the fantasy and reality of their youth, the roads they've traveled or bypassed, and the hard truths and regrets of their current lives. The conceit created by James Goldman and Stephen Sondheim is that the men and women revisiting the theatre are "shadowed" by ghosts - their younger, pre-World War II selves - who bring to life the scenes from the past. The story pointedly asks the question: "Can we ever go back?" Just as the characters respond each in their own way, the audience reaction is deeply personal, dependent upon individual history and level of emotional maturity, but it remains a question that demands further introspection.  

The book and the songs are packed with pathos, humor, and humanity as they examine the vagaries of real life, aging, lost youth, and mortality, while metaphorically tackling the subject of the shape of musical theatre at that time, as well. The show has taken on more layers as it has been tinkered with and revived over the years, but it retains the framework as designed by Messrs. Goldman, Sondheim, Prince, and Bennett. Veloudos has emphasized the theme of connection between the past and present and notes that each ghost person is linked in some way to their counterpart by costume designer Rafael Jaen's stunning and meticulously detailed fashions. In a stroke of casting genius, the pairs on the Lyric Stage bear striking resemblance to each other, intensifying the bond between young and older Sally, Buddy, Phyllis, and Ben.

Speaking further of casting, the embarrassment of riches in this ensemble makes it impossible to single out every performance worthy of mention. However, Michele DeLuca (Young Sally) and Aimee Doherty (Young Phyllis) are outstanding as the younger versions of Barrett and Zschau, so full of sparkle and hope for a future that they cannot possibly foresee, and Phil Crumrine (Young Buddy) and Josh Dennis (Young Ben) deserve attention as the boys waiting downstairs for the glamorous showgirls. The other young women and men are all solid performers who can sing, dance, act, and look good doing it. Their presence bodes well for the future of the Boston theatre scene. While many of them have substantial credits of their own, they have an amazing "master class" opportunity as they work side by side with so many veteran actors in this production. Local favorite Bobbie Steinbach (Carlotta) demonstrates exactly how to make a well-known song her own in her solo "I'm Still Here," and Dawn Tucker (Heidi), as a woman confined to a wheelchair, casts a spell with her delicate, crystalline soprano ("One More Kiss"); Parker delivers a sassy "Broadway Baby," and Carey shows his great range and Buddy's inner turmoil in "The Right Girl" and "The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me-Blues;" Daggett's rich baritone is haunting in "The Road You Didn't Take," and the inimitable Leigh Barrett takes us on a heart-breaking emotional journey in the eleven o'clock number, "Losing My Mind," giving it her singular stamp in the process.

Janie E. Howland's deco set with a central staircase provides the necessary showcase for the parade of the Follies girls and makes use of overhead alcoves for a few scenes. With an upstage runway and the vacant downstage section, the entire area seems more spacious than usual for the Lyric. Choreographer Ilyse Robbins takes full advantage, especially in the numbers that involve the whole company. I am a sucker for tap dancing, as is Robbins, apparently, and she outdoes herself in "Who's That Woman?" as all of the female characters time step to beat the band with great synchronicity and unmistakable joy. It is the showstopper in a show brimming with occasions for wild applause.

The book and the score combined make this one of my favorite Sondheim musicals and much credit should be given to Musical Director Jonathan Goldberg for recreating full, rich orchestrations with only eight musicians. At times, the orchestra was too loud, but I would expect that technical glitch to be remedied during the run. From the Prologue through the Loveland play-within-the-play, the songs come across without a hitch, well played and skillfully sung. The story examines the stark reality of growing up, growing apart, and growing old, but in a magical, musical way. It reminds us to look back and connect with who we were and where we came from, to understand how we arrived at today and where we might be tomorrow. Most of us do that from time to time, but there's something to be learned from watching Sally, Buddy, Phyllis, and Ben go through it. Folly has more than one definition in this piece. See the show and reflect on that. 






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