In the second act of this jaw-dropping revival of Steven Sondheim and James Goldman's Follies, legendary opera diva, Rosalind Elias (making a remarkable Broadway debut at age 82!) sings Sondheim's haunting nod to operetta, "One More Kiss." Behind her, we see the ghost of her younger self, played and sung flawlessly by Leah Horowitz, who joins her in song. The duet climaxes with the lyric, "Never Look Back." Meanwhile, the four principal characters in Follies are doing just that, looking back, and with regret. I am tempted to do the same -- look back with regret that I never saw the legendary original production of Follies at The Winter Garden in 1971. I do have a very good excuse, however; I wasn't born yet.
Friends and colleagues who did experience that production have described its many joys at length. I've heard the cast album and seen the pirated clips on youtube. With all that advance hype, it seemed the bar was set ever so high for the current revival, in my mind anyway, so it is with relief and with no small amount of joy that I can report that I came out of the Marquis Theater entirely swept away by what I experienced. Quibbles? Sure. But overall, this production -- unlike the travesty that passed itself off as Follies in 2001 -- is splendid in just about every way.
The cast is magnificent. Jan Maxwell is fearless and brilliant as Phyllis. Her climactic "Could I Leave You" had me pinned to the back of my seat. Ron Raines inhabits the character of Phyllis's successful husband, Benjamin Stone, with a heartbreaking truthfulness. Danny Burstein, who never fails to disappoint, certainly doesn't here in the role of Buddy Plummer. It may well be his finest hour. And then there's Bernadette. Word was that at the Kennedy Center, she seemed not yet to have fully found her character, Sally Durant Plummer, a woman on the verge. Well, if that word was at all accurate then, it certainly isn't now. The arc of her character, climaxing with the iconic, Gershwinesque "Losing My Mind," is, as Ms. Peters plays it, simply devastating. And each of the supporting players, many of whom get their own show-stopping moments, delivers the goods.
Derek McLane's set is haunting. Gregg Barnes costumes are evocative and suggest the requisite opulence. Natasha Katz's lighting, which often bears the burden of defining past and present, is pitch perfect. My one quibble was sound. It felt 'pinched' and muffled most of the time. Jonathan Tunick's brilliant orchestrations never were given the opportunity to dazzle. The reason, I suspect, has to do with the interior of the theater being shrouded in fabric, suggesting tarps used at construction sites, or in this case, a demolition site. All that fabric is just gobbling up and muffling the sound.
And I do wish there had not been an intermission. The entire "Loveland" sequence appeared to suffer a bit from not having the uninterrupted and relentless tension leading up to it.
That said, hats off to director, Eric Schaeffer, choreographer Warren Carlisle and the entire Follies company. It wouldn't surprise me a bit if in a decade or so people will be looking back on this production with nearly as much reverence as those who look back upon the original.
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