Follies Is Back! My Review

Categories: Theater

Follies-9-Elaine-Paige-as-Carlotta-Campion-with-members-of-the-ensemble.-Photo-by-Joan-Marcus.jpg

Is a serviceable Follies good enough? Yes, because the 1971 classic is such a rich, dark leap into regret, with a witty and poignant Sondheim score -- and besides, the Eric Schaeffer-directed production rises to the occasion for Act Two.

You know the drill:

A famed vaudeville theater is being turned into a parking lot, so the producer invites all the old showstoppers for a reunion, where their missed opportunities collide, basically leading to one musical breakdown after another.

Bernadette Peters plays the heartbroken ex-showgirl Sally as a raw nerve, a shattered wet blanket who's one step from a looney bin, and she manages to pull it off via sheer commitment, though it's not clear who'd really want to even chat with this gal at a party.

As the equally unfulfilled Phyllis, Jan Maxwell is sleek and caustic, catching the character's humor and pathos as she veers between getting licked by a cater waiter and vehemently telling off her husband for his remoteness.

And supporting turns by Jayne Houdyshell, Terri White, and Rosalind Elias deliver socko old-school showmanship that reminds you why, even if theaters shutter, vaudeville will never die.

But while treasured British diva Elaine Page's "I'm Still Here" starts in a very effective conversational mode, halfway through she goes for full-on rage, with lots of eyeball rolling and harrumphing, an approach that doesn't do justice to the song's textures.

The anger works better for Maxwell in her sizzling "Could I Leave You?" Also in the second act, Peters's "Losing My Mind" is wrenching as she radiates sheer pain, not going left, not going right.

In fact, everything in Act Two seems to click, like the big, skittish number by Danny Burstein as Sally's philandering husband who -- like everyone else -- is torn, divided, underappreciated, and freaking out.

I found the last Follies revival -- in 2001 -- to be more consistently thrilling, but it's still Follies, and with its go-for-broke emotionalism, this production is definitely worth a visit before they tear down the Marriott and make it a parking lot.


Photo: Joan Marcus


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19 comments
Shane Brooklyn
Shane Brooklyn

Loved every second of this show! I'm going back to see it again.

Vodkastinger
Vodkastinger

I may stand alone as the only person in New York who though Jan Maxwell was lousy, but great review.  Follies LIVES!

Jack E. Jett
Jack E. Jett

Does Bernadette Peters still have that amazing skin that makes it look like she hasn't aged a day?  It is clearly a face that has never sun tanned.

Southern Dave
Southern Dave

As usual, your review is succint, solid and saucy.

But  what about that unwieldy book ? Every time I see a "Follies," I keep thinking how easy it would be to solve its book problems:

"Snip, snip here,Snip, snip there,And a couple of tra-la-las,"That's how we fix up 'Follies' in the merry old land of Oz."

The Paper Mill Playhouse production had an embarrassment of riches:  Donna McKechnie, Ann Miller, Kaye Ballard, Dee Hoty, Phyllis Newman, Tony Roberts, Laurence Guittard, Liliane Montevechhie. Got raves, but allegedly, Mrs. Book Writer wouldn't let them bring it into New York.

Anyone know exactly WHY?

Kevin Jones
Kevin Jones

I disagree - Blythe Danner was horrible and Judith Ivey only came alive for Losing My Mind - this production delivered number after number.  Jan Maxwell is more amazing with every role she plays and Bernadette Peters brings Sally's sad delusions to complete realization.  Elaine Page rivals the great Polly Bergen's I'm Still Here in this production (the only outstanding moment of the 2001 revival).  The current production tells the story, the previous production was all pastiche with no real substance.  I'd see it again, and I'm hearing that a lot from others who've seen it.

Kevin Jones
Kevin Jones

I disagree - Blythe Danner was horrible and Judith Ivey only came alive for Losing My Mind - this production delivered number after number.  Jan Maxwell is more amazing with every role she plays and Bernadette Peters brings Sally's sad delusions to complete realization.  Elaine Page rivals the great Polly Bergen's I'm Still Here in this production (the only outstanding moment of the 2001 revival).  The current production tells the story, the previous production was all pastiche with no real substance.  I'd see it again, and I'm hearing that a lot from others who've seen it.

Keating3232
Keating3232

Michael, You're truly perverse! You're the only writer I know who liked the 2001 revival of this glorious mess of a Sondheim show. 

Stephen Rourke
Stephen Rourke

Re:  your last line:  better they should tear it down and rebuild the five theatres it replaced!  What an irony--a show about a soon-to-be-torn-down theatre playing in a theatre for which five theatres were torn down!

Stephen Rourke
Stephen Rourke

Better they should tear it down and rebuild the five theatres it replaced!

Gregorama
Gregorama

Oh, if only your last line were true!  I'm still pissed, 29 years later, from when they tore down all the old Broadway houses (the Gaiety, Astor, Helen Hayes, Morosco, and Bijou Theatres) to make way for that monstrously ugly, dated-from-the-day-it-opened behemoth, The Marriott Marquis. Remember that?  A huge group of A-list actors (and other artists as well) chaining themselves to fences to prevent the destruction...among them, Joseph Papp, Tammy Grimes, Estelle Parsons, Susan Sarandon, Tony Randall, Celeste Holm, Jose Ferrer, Treat Williams and Colleen Dewhurst.  Several of them were arrested, too.  I can't look at that architectural abortion without thinking back to that day.  I only wish it could have done some good, but at that point, it was already a fait accompli.  I hadn't made the correlation that "Follies" is playing there....I wonder if the irony was intentional in some way?

Lost Weekend
Lost Weekend

"Mr Peabody, I want to set the Way-Back Machine to 4 April 1971.  I want to see Alexis Smith, Dorothy Collins, Yvonne De Carlo, Mary McCarty, and most of all, I want to see Ethel Shutta belt out 'Broadway Baby.'  I want to see the original Dreamland Sequence, the "Mirror" Number, the opening number, the ghosts, the full orchestra and the on-stage pit-band..."

"Oh, Sherman, I always knew you were a poof!"

AustinTexas1961
AustinTexas1961

I've been reading on Broadway World.com (I'm "PattiLuPone FANatic) about how many are not amused about Elaine Paige's use of "backphrasing"?    I've looked it up and still am not sure what it means.  Also, here is a link to Elaine Paige and her demented laugh on her radio show.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

AndrewMilner
AndrewMilner

Is this Follies better or worse than the 1998 Paper Mill production, which was pretty darn great?

Raggedyandy
Raggedyandy

Glad to hear some good things about it. A friend of mine thought it was dull as dishwater.

Pidge
Pidge

I love your reviews!!

Bway
Bway

Yes, she looks amazing. Her character says "I am 49" and no one laughed.

Pitchfork
Pitchfork

I think they snipped a little of the Ben & Sally dialogue for this production.

As for the Paper Mill being nixed, was it maybe because they had some other production in mind that didn't transfer? Can't remember.

Musto
Musto

I didn't see that one, unfortunately.

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