BWW Reviews: FOLLIES ODs on Razzmatazz

Under the direction of Philip Fazio, Stephen Sondheim's Follies is receiving Arizona's first fully produced production at Theater Works. Mr. Fazio has pulled out all the stops to stage an extravaganza that in Broadway lore has been dubbed one of the great milestones of musical theater. Perhaps it was at the time, and so may Sondheim's 1971 opus be both an inspired and innovative homage to the world of the theater and a story of love's failed expectations. However, this 2015 version feels like a smorgasbord of sketches interrupted by the occasional gem.

The Weismann Theatre is about to meet the wrecking ball. But before it's razed, the past stars of its stage reunite to celebrate their glory days. As they greet and reminisce, the showgirl ghosts of Follies past, bedecked in feathers, fans, and gemstones, glide along the stage and through the house's aisles, evoking sweet nostalgia. Sharing in the memories are two conflicted couples. Ben (Rusty Ferracane) and Phyllis (Shari Watts) question the viability of their marriage and the lies that taint it. Buddy (Scott Hyder) and Sally (Beth Anne Johnson) are equally distressed, the angst only heightened when Sally confronts Ben, the guy she loved but lost and thinks she may regain. All four struggle with the coulda/shouldas of their lives ~ and accentuating the gap between their old dreams and current realities are the specters of their youthful selves.

Conceptually, Follies has the ingredients and the theatrical devices that can make for a great show, but, live and on stage, the production feels cluttered with circus-like excesses that distract from the core story; movement that, at times, is not as sure-footed as it needs to be; and singing that is way too pitchy. The brilliance of this production lies rather in its outstanding technical aspects, in large part attributable to Mr. Fazio's artistic vision.

Thus, the gems:

Brett Aiken, Theater Works' technical director, has distinguished himself by designing one of the most striking and imaginative sets that has graced the area's stages. He has replicated the mood and texture of the decayed venue with a great eye for detail and authenticity.

The orchestra, under Steve Hilderbrand's direction, is well-paced and rich in its interpretation of Sondheim's score.

In the costume department, Tamara Treat, as she consistently does for shows throughout the Valley, has created a glittering and classy array of wardrobe.

In the elegance department, Patti Davis Suarez shines bright when she belts out a bold and show-stopping Broadway Baby.

Bottom line: There are simply times when less may be more and the old chestnuts may not stand the test of time. This won't mean that there are audiences that won't fall in love with the extravagance of this production.

Follies continues its run at the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts through March 15th.

Photo credit to Alastair Gamble

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From This Author Herbert Paine