TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: Follies
Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s legendary musical, about nostalgia and regret at a reunion of Follies girls, haunts Broadway in a lavish revival.
“This Follies looks back as much in anger as in fondness. That’s what makes it so vibrant.” New York Times
“Rather than a seamless whole, the show feels like barely connected musical numbers of varying quality.” New York Post
“Follies is the disease and the cure in one package: I’d advise you to catch it.” New York Magazine
“If this revival that comes to Broadway via an early-summer run at the Kennedy Center isn’t flawless, its transcendent moments more than offset its imperfections.” The Hollywood Reporter
“It’s head-spinning stuff, one delicious bite of candy followed by another…” Associated Press
Mizer’s Two Cents: This is a lush, emotionally complex revival that fuses the pleasures of “old time” show biz entertainment (hey, look, that’s a bunch of classy dames doing a big tap number) with the rigorous introspection of “modern” musical drama (hey, look, everyone’s having a nervous breakdown). Even when a few segments sag (it’s an inescapably episodic show), the exquisite portraiture of the songwriting, the richly melancholic mood and the attention to detail are so enveloping that I appreciated the time to linger; like the characters, you don’t want to leave the Follies even if there are times when staying hurts or mystifies.
The quartet of stars are solid with a fiery, wickedly funny Jan Maxwell and a slow-burn to razzle dazzle Danny Burstein leading the way. I’ve heard whispers of concern about a “miscast” Bernadette Peters but I think it’s more the case that Sally is not, in the end, a traditionally likeable character and Peters commits to that character fully. Yes, Peters is no frump as Sally, whatever she may say in the script (though compared to the long, lithe Maxwell, I can absolutely see why she, still girlish and soft, would feel unattractive and less womanly). Sally can be a mess, unlikeable and needy, and Peters bravely allows her kewpie-doll enthusiasm to edge into off-putting territory and her singing voice to pinch into similarly uncomfortable places. This all feels absolutely appropriate to a middle-aged woman trying to be 20 again and her inability to see what’s coming is wrenching.
Although it’s a large production, what lingers for me are the perfectly polished details — a testament to director Eric Scaeffer and the top to bottom professionalism of this company. Watch how Kiira Schmidt and Jenifer Foote nail the comic pastiche supporting “Buddy’s Blues”. Notice the tiny shared glances of competition, frustration and laughter between the women as they attempt to dance their old Follies number three decades later in “Who’s That Woman”. And feel the way that theater can get at the ineffable when Rosalind Elias, still blessed with a lovely classical voice after a 50 year career, sings “One More Kiss” while her younger self, Leah Horowitz, effortlessly sales to higher notes at her side. It’s a simple moment, delicately staged, and yet it speaks volumes about the pull of time and the joys of an intelligent, singular musical like Follies.