It’s been ten years since I heard the music to Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies” and when I sat in my seat Thursday night at e Kennedy center’s Eisenhower theater, I was immediately taken back to the afternoon when I was swung out of our roundabout theater production of 2001. The dark yet strident tone of the strings, the tattered fabric strewn about the theater and stage… The sadness of another temple of art from a bygone era being destroyed was upon us.
This production starring Bernadette Peters, Jan Maxwell, Danny Burstein, Elaine Paige and Ron Raines is something to behold. As the ancient drape rises on the quintessential “Weissman Girl”, my breath was immediately taken away by Gregg Barnes gorgeous costumes. The ghosts shimmered throughout the evening with a delicate gaze.
I, however, didn’t immediately feel the urgency of this group of women happy to be reunited with old friends for possibly one last time. ( Follies 2001 just had our ten year reunion and the sheer volume in the room of old friends buzzing about trying to see each face and hug each person…and grab a drink was audible. THAT was a reunion. This was not) There women entered the party looking for applause, not looking for old friends.
Be that as it may, I found sincere joy in hearing the music even when not totally invested in the performances. Standouts in this production are many, including Danny Burstein, Elaine Paige, Linda Lavin, Rosalind Elias, Leah Horowitz, Terri White, and Ron Raines. The portrayals of young Sally, Phyllis, Ben and Buddy are lovely as well.
The sound in this production is not always as lovely. The orchestrations are exquisite as one would expect and wonderfully conducted by James Moore albeit it a bit langsam at times. Note to sound department, This. Is. Sondheim!!! Every word and utterance must be clearly heard by the old lady in the back row with the dead duracell batteries in her ancient hearing aid. Last night, she thought she’d gone to a world before “talkies”. Many of the songs seemed either too low or an eastern quarter tone to high for most of the ladies except for Terri White who can and will sing to a trash can and Linda Lavin who sounded like Sophie Tucker had invaded her body.
Warren Carlyle’s choreography was a definite high point of the evening. The Loveland section was light and bright and sexy and fun. The staging of the showgirls was exceptional. My two issues were the following: the stage looked crowded with too many women during “Mirror mirror” and in ” Lucy and Jessie” Jan Maxwell needs to stand and sing and look gorgeous, which she does, instead of throwing herself in a gangly manner about the stage. She’s a frigging star! Let’s remember that.
As for stardom, Bernadette Peters was a let down from start to finish. To one whom so much has been given, much is expected and she didn’t come with her “A” game. She didn’t even come with her “C” game. What should’ve seemed effortless only seemed apathetic. She was having apparent issues with her allergies but that could’ve been overlooked if she had, well, acted at some point. There were bernadette-isms all over her performance but they didn’t work for Sally Durand…not for me, anyway. Flailing arms and the head thrown back and that shrill of a sound only added to my aggravation that this version of Sally was off the mark. But what do I know…performing since age 9, on broadway for more than a decade and a keen sense of what works and doesn’t.
On the opposite side of that spectrum is Ron Raines…AH!!! Let the heavens open up when this man sings. One of the most glorious voices I’ve heard in some time and the acting chops of a seasoned professional. I hope to see and hear him many times in the future.
There was nothing ground breaking about this show except that the show is perfection…as Mr. Sondheim wrote it. No happy endings. Just a return to life after a few brief moments of realization of how golden these past lives were.