Last weekend I was blessed to get to make a very busy, very crazy trip to New York. I was there from Thursday through Saturday, but due to time constraints (and to budget restraints as well) I was only able to see one show. Asking a person who loves theatre as much as I do to pick only ONE show to see in New York is like asking a book lover to pick one book to read for the rest of their lives.
Needless to say, my decision was difficult. There are so many shows that I want to see right now. It helped a little because this seems to be the time of year right after many shows have closed and newer shows haven’t quite opened yet. But there was still the new production of Rent, off-Broadway, Anything Goes (which I’ve been trying to see since it opened), a revival of Godspell (which started previews the Thursday I got into town), and Follies.
When I was a little kid, I loved the movie Annie. With a crazy amount of love. What other child actually knows who Bernadette Peters is? And Carol Burnett? I remember my mom telling me who they were. But the names (at the time) didn’t mean much to me outside of the “Annie” bubble. But since that time I’ve always wanted to see Bernadette Peters on stage. When I found out she was in the Kennedy Center’s production of Follies, I tried to go. I have friends in the area, but time and money got in the way and the chance slipped through my fingers.
But then came the Broadway transfer. It gave me another chance. Out of all of the shows that I had a chance to see in New York on this trip, Follies was the one most likely to close before I could get back to the city. So Follies and Ms. Bernadette ended up being my choice. And I was so glad it was.
There’s not much like a good Sondheim musical. It’s classic. Not always the best thing to take a first timer to see (which I did this trip), but a good, solid musical that makes you feel things.
I’d never seen a show in the Marquis Theatre. Everything I’ve ever wanted to see there closed before I could get back up there. But I have to say, what they had done with the inside of the Marquis was pretty cool. Because Follies takes place in the Weismann Theater, a theatre that is about to be torn down, the inside of the Marquis theater’s walls and ceiling has been draped in brown material. The edge of the stage is uneven, giving it a broken down, old look and feel. Basically, the Marquis went from being what it was, to being the Weismann in all its dilapidated glory.
Set in 1971, the basis is of the story is that an old theatre is getting ready to be destroyed and there is a party of sorts, more like a reunion, of the girls who were in the Follies. The show takes you back and forth between 1971 and the 40s, when best friends Phyllis and Sally were in the follies and dating their future husbands Ben and Buddy.
Surrounded by a huge cast crammed full of talent, Bernadette Peters as Sally and Jan Maxwell as Phyllis, shine brightly. As young girls, Phyllis and Bernadette are on top of their game. They’re beautiful, popular, and have the attention of Ben, played by Ron Raines and Buddy, played by Danny Burnstein. Problems come when Ben begins to play with the affections of both girls, and Sally falls hard for her best friend’s boy. Decisions are made, and in 1971 you see the crumbling façade of an extremely unhappy Sally, married to an equally unhappy Buddy. Sally, still wishing for the past, and Buddy, still in love with his wife, who loves another man. Add to that the unstable marriage of Phyllis and Ben and you have a recipe for disaster.
Jan Maxwell’s performance of “Could I Leave You?” channels all the pain and anger that Phyllis could possibly feel and throws it back at the audience in magnificent fashion. Even from the Mezzanine I could feel her pain and anger radiating through the theatre. Bernadette Peters’ performance of “Losing My Mind” left me losing my composure and shedding tears for her pain and for that pain that I know most women have felt (including me) at some point in their lives.
Because the show slips back and forth in time, you see the beginning and, in a way, the end of the story that has spanned decades. You also see where their other girls who worked in the Follies have ended up. Each story has its regrets and its glories. Each girl turned woman has a need to revel in past glories, and come to terms with their current life.
One shining performance was Elaine Paige as folly girl turned movie star, Carlotta. Her performance of “I’m Still Here” was a show stopper for me. Also making a huge impression on me was Hattie, played by Jayne Houdyshell, and her performance of “Broadway Baby.” That moment in the show was one that brought a huge smile to my face. Even a week later, I catch myself humming along to that tune, playing in my head. Terri White’s Stella was also amazing and the performance of “Who’s That Woman” was one of the best ensemble performances of the entire show.
Each character in the show has a “young” version that we see, like ghosts of the Weismann Theater. Sometimes they simply haunt the upper levels of the stage. Other times, they mirror the women that those girls have become, showing that even as time pass and people change, you are inevitably connected to your youth.
As with most Sondheim musicals I have seen, there isn’t always a happy ending…or at least not your traditional happy ending. But it’s a show that leaves you with your own thoughts about your past, your present, your future and the way that simple decisions can have longstanding effects on your life and the lives of those around you.
*All videos taken from the Follies website*