September 12, 2011

Pure Nostalgia

I'm familiar with some of the songs and the basic story line of Follies but last Saturday (9/3) matinee was my first time to see a production of it. Follies takes place when former Weismann Follies (based on the Zeigfeld Follies) girls come together for a reunion. They all meet up at their former theatre before it's to be demolished into a parking lot and re-live the glory days as performers one last time.

It also centers mostly on two couples, Buddy/Sally Durant Plummer (Danny Burnstein/Bernadette Peters) and Benjamin/Phyllis Rogers Stone (Ron Raines/Jan Maxwell). Sally and Phyllis are both former Follies girls and are in an unhappy marriage with their respective partners. Buddy, a traveling salesman has an affair with a younger mistress while Sally is still in love with Benjamin after all these years. Meanwhile, Benjamin is successful but still is as self absorbed as when he was younger while Phyllis feels abandoned and neglected. All these feelings and revelations get unearthed at the reunion making a compelling story.

The principals are all tremendously talented. I am moved by both Bernadette Peters and Jan Maxwell's performance. The great Elaine Paige plays Carlotta, the one among the girls who becomes a successful movie actress. She eventually relays to the guests how her dramatic number gets cut from the revue because the audience found it humorous and proceeds to sing "I'm Still Here" which oddly enough, fits in the present moment. It is such a pleasure to hear her sing this song in a brassy belty number!

The rest of the ensemble of women comprising of Rosalind Elias, Colleen Fitzpatrick, Jayne Houdyshell (she's hilarious!), Florence Lacey, Mary Beth Peil, Susan Watson and Terri White are a delight to see and they too get to perform solos where they show off their musical gifts. They all exude elegance and grace rarely seen nowadays.

What made me really love Follies is how the production is staged. As one enters the theatre, you immediately observe the tattered curtains that drape the whole theatre with the dilapidated floor boards of the stage and crumbling proscenium. Right there, it transports you into a different time. With the lavish costumes and big dance numbers, it is pure nostalgia. Another great staging device was when characters perform their number, a younger version of themselves wearing the Follies costume, mirror their performance and they are so in sync with their present self that it's enthralling. As if ghosts of their former self come to life onstage. In addition, during the reunion or book scenes, director Eric Shaeffer had some girls in full Follies costume and head gear walk as background action on the different catwalks onstage thereby adding to the "ghostliness" of the production. It is haunting. It brought me back to a bygone era......the glory days of theatre and I am always willing to go there anytime.

At the stagedoor after the show, we were told that Ms. Peters, Ms. Paige and Ms. Maxwell will not come out between shows. That was understandable. Below, Terri White (who by the way did some great hoofing) came out to sign and have photos taken.

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