By Isa Goldberg / Chief Theater Critic
There are lots of reminders in “Follies.” Some of them are wonderful.
Sally and Ben and Buddy and Phyllis are a throwback to the swinging couples of the early 70s, which is when the show premiered. When we meet them in this revival of the Stephen Sondheim/James Goldman classic, the middle-aged ex- chorus girls and their husbands are reunited to celebrate their lives as Ziegfeld Follies-like dancers in the theater, now on the eve of destruction. Evoking the Golden Age of Broadway, “Follies” vamps on that lavish theatricality.
Directed by Eric Schaeffer, the production boasts a cast that meets our expectations. As Sally, Bernadette Peters underplays inner hysteria singing “Losing My Mind” with a banal front covering narcissistic despair. Danny Burstein portrays her cloying, insecure husband with bitter precision. They’re joined by Elaine Paige who reminds us what a great stage performer she is, and Terri White and Rosalind Elias whose voices are truly resounding. Ron Raines plays the philandering politician with a voice far deeper than his character.
In her inimitable way, Jayne Houdyshell as the “Broadway Baby” turns her dowdy looks to shabby chic. Still, the edgiest show girl in this revival is Jan Maxwell who literally bounces off the stage in a satirical number about two dames, “itching to be switching roles.” Time may have left these actors unscathed, but their characters reveal its effects quite differently.
Clearly, the tale is sentimental and predictable, juxtaposing the past with the present, and reality with fantasy. On another level, it’s a psychodrama with a cast of vibrant young actors serving as alter egos to the characters as they were thirty years ago. Lora Lee Gayer’s Young Sally flows so naturally out of older Sally’s self reflection that young and old merge almost seamlessly.
Meanwhile, Gregg Barnes’s black and white costumed Follies, frozen in time, dance hauntingly in the shadows, a black and white pastiche behind the brightly costumed celebrants at the reunion. As choreographed by Warren Carlyle these iconic-looking chorines of old appear as phantoms haunting the theater.
In Derek McLane’s set design, the newfangled Marquis Theatre is shrouded in black sheets and littered with artifacts of a grander time. That James Moore has enlisted a full 28-piece orchestra for this revival evokes the old style of musical theater in the best sense.
Indeed, “Follies” is an anomaly with a book and music celebrating the past, all while declaring it dead. Certainly, the lyrics in this early Sondheim work introduce his signature style: conversations turned to fascinating rhythms. In this respect, the show set the course for a new style of musical theater.
While the production by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, captures the spectacle and the thematic tensions of the show, the emotional life of the characters doesn’t always feel connected to the kinetic stage business. But that has always been an issue with this show in which so much is happening at once. And with so much that is flawlessly executed, the rewards are ample.
See “Follies.” Celebrate the theater.
“Follies” is at the Marquis Theatre,1535 Broadway (46th Street between Broadway & 8th Avenue). Performances are Tuesdays s at 7pm, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8pm, Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2pm, and Sunday matinees at 3pm. For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 877-250-2929, go to the box office or visit www.Ticketmaster.com.
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