9/24/11 matinee performance
12/17/11 evening performance
Background: When I first heard about Stephen Sondheim’s Follies opening at the Kennedy Center last summer, I seriously considered making a trip to our nation’s capital to see it for one reason: Bernadette Peters. I’ve been a huge fan ever since I saw her as Desiree Armfeldt in last year’s revival of A Little Night Music. She is an exceptional performer. Unfortunately, I never got to D.C. last summer and so I was thrilled when it was announced that Follies was transferring to Broadway this fall... and it definitely met my expectations. Follies has everything you could possible want in a musical-- energetic dance numbers, exquisite costumes, stellar acting, a haunting story, and beautiful music, including the classics Broadway Baby, Losing My Mind, I’m Still Here, and Could I Leave You.
Quick synopsis: Follies is the story of two discontented couples: Phyllis and Ben Stone played by Jan Maxwell and Ron Raines and Sally and Buddy Plummer played by Bernadette Peters and Danny Burstein. Thirty years ago, Phyllis and Sally, both Follies girls, were roommates, close friends, and dating Ben and Buddy respectively. Now married, A Follies reunion brings these two couples together once again and issues of the past resurface. It is revealed that Sally is still in love with Ben after thirty years. Follies depicts each character’s emotional anguish; Sally’s breakdown in response to Ben’s unrequited love; Phyllis’ resentment of Ben’s apathy; Ben’s unhappiness with himself; and Buddy’s anger and desperation to keep Sally. Follies is basically an explosion of thirty years of suppressed emotions... and some scenes are quite explosive.
Commentary: The best part of Follies was each of the four main characters, who were perfectly cast.
Jan Maxwell as Phyllis Rogers Stone: Let’s start with Jan Maxwell, who stole the show. I admit that I saw Follies for the first time for Bernadette Peters, but I returned for the second time to see Jan Maxwell again. When she wasn’t on stage, I found myself wishing that she was. She brings wit, sarcasm, intelligence, vulnerability, and sass to the character of Phyllis and has mastered comic timing. i.e. “young man, you’re getting me all wet.” (go see Follies and you’ll understand). Her performance is somewhat contradictory in itself because she has an emotionally “heavy” role, yet part of the character’s charm is her sense of humor and sarcasm... but she made that balance work wonderfully. I loved the sarcastic and emotionally-charged Could I Leave You and her Follies number, The Story of Lucy and Jessie. For someone who says she is not a dancer, Jan Maxwell can dance pretty darn well. I can’t wait to see what she does next. She was just amazing.
Bernadette Peters as Sally Durant Plummer: Bernadette Peters gave an equally wonderful performance, although I would not say that she “stole the show”, maybe because her character was not as likable as Phyllis. Even with that said, she has once again proven why her career has successfully spanned six decades. Bernadette Peters can sing and dance, but above all else, she can act. And more importantly, she acts as she sings and is able to effectively convey her emotions through her singing voice. When I saw her perform Send in the Clowns in A Little Night Music, I remember thinking, ‘now I know what that song means’. Similarly, her performance of Losing My Mind in Follies was equally as beautiful and emotionally raw. And while Bernadette Peters may not be the expected actress to play the “crazy”, mousy Sally, she is entirely believable.
**I hope Jan Maxwell and Bernadette Peters both get Tony nods this year.
Danny Burstein as Buddy Plummer and Ron Raines as Ben Stone gave very strong performances and were very well-cast. It was also nice to see British theatre legend Elaine Paige as Carlotta. Other cast members that stood out were: Terri White as Stella Deems (the Mirror number was amazing), and Mary Beth Peil as Solange (does anyone remember her as Grams on Dawson’s Creek?).
As I was leaving the Marquis Theatre after the show on 12/17/11, I overheard an audience member saying that he didn’t like the ending because it had no resolution. While I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone who is planning on seeing the show before it closes, I will say that Follies does not end the way most people want or expect it to. However, I did think that the ending was realistic and true to real-life relationships... and it leaves room for the imagination. I think there’s something to be said for stories that negate the traditional “happy ending” and end on a realistic, more thought-provoking note. For example, Next to Normal. Everyone wants Diana’s illness to be resolved, but in real life, there is no cure for bipolar disorder. If Diana was a real person, her life would always be an uphill battle. The musical would have lost its poignancy if it had ended with a true resolution. The same can be said for Follies. I think the ending is fine the way it is (but I didn’t tell the man at the theatre that of course).
**Go see Follies before it closes on 1/22/12 or catch it in Los Angeles this spring. You will not be sorry! P.S. Bernadette Peters will not be continuing with the L.A. production!
**Buy the cast recording! Not only does it include all of the songs, it also includes several tracks of dialogue. Personal Favorites: Losing My Mind, The Story of Lucy and Jessie, Too Many Mornings, In Buddy’s Eyes, Could I Leave You, Live, Laugh, Love, and Broadway Baby.