Friday, December 30, 2011

Look, I’m Eating My Hat: Revisiting 'Follies'

Follies' Magnificent Cast.  Photo by Joan Marcus

I don’t often return to see an existing production for a second time.  After all, life is short, and there’s a lot of theatergoing to do. 

Nevertheless, ever since I saw an early preview of Follies, I have had a hankering to see it again, wondering what changes might have taken place between then and now.  It is such a significant musical, and the opportunity to see a full-scale production with a full-scale orchestra in the pit is not likely to come around again for a long, long time. I simply could not get it out of my mind. 

In my blog review of the show back in early September, I noted that while I admired much about the production, I was less than thrilled with the performances of the two leading women.  Jan Maxwell as Phyllis seemed tentative and in over her head as a singer and dancer; Bernadette Peters as Sally seemed unsure of how best to approach her role and was—much to my surprise—over her head herself as a singer.  I also thought that the former Follies girls in attendance at the reunion--save for Susan Watson--were pretty much devoid of individuality or presence.

And yet, I could not stay away.

And now I say, WOW, WOW, and yet again WOW!!!

Any doubts I had were washed away in one sublime evening of near perfection. It’s as though everyone involved has come to realize that this is the experience of a lifetime, and they are finding inspiration from each other to continue to perfect their performances.

The women playing the former Follies girls have found personalities in every tiny bit they have been given to work with from the script, and each is a delight.  Solange (Mary Beth Peil), Stella (Terri White) and Carlotta (Elaine Paige) are more than just moment-in-the-spotlight performers; they have developed into real characters. Ms. Watson and Jayne Houdyshell continue to shine, as do the actors playing the young Ben (Nick Verina), young Buddy (Christian Delcroix), young Phyllis (Kirsten Scott), and especially Lora Lee Gayer as young Sally (so very Bernadette in appearance and manner). 

The leading men, Ron Raines as Ben and Danny Burstein as Buddy, remain terrific in their roles, but it is the two ladies at the center of things, Ms. Maxwell and Ms. Peters, who have spent the weeks since previews figuring out who they are and why they are there, and they are now giving absolutely stellar performances.  Their numbers during the Loveland portion of the show are nothing short of phenomenal.  I now cannot imagine anyone ever doing a better job of performing “The Story of Lucy and Jessie” (Ms. Maxwell) or “Losing My Mind” (Ms. Peters).   Indeed, the entire Loveland sequence is utter perfection.  Would that I could bottle it and take it out on a gloomy day!

With Follies set to close on January 22, do yourself a favor for the new year and go see it for yourself (or see it again).  You’ll not have another opportunity like this anytime soon.

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