A majestic, star-studded production dazzled the stage of the Ahmanson theatre last night. Practically every number was met with cheering and thunderous applause. An enthusiastic audience gobbled up every note of the opening night performance of Sondheim & Goldman’s Follies.
It’s been thirty years and Dimitri Weismann (David Sabin) has summoned his favor Follies girls for one final night of reunion and spontaneous performances, before the old theatre is turned into a parking lot. Sally Plummer (Victoria Clark) is the first to arrive at the Weismann Theatre. She is anxious to not only reconnect with old friend and reminisce of old times, but also to see if there is a chance at a new life for her.
All the Follies girls, from early to mid-century, recognize each other immediately and the event is awash with warm embraces and whimsical remembrances. Sally eventually finds reconnects with the glamorous Phyllis Stone (Jan Maxwell). Back in 1941, the women were best friends, inseparable showgirls who eventually married best friends Benjamin Stone (Ron Raines) and Buddy Plummer (Danny Burstein). Buddy arrives a bit late to the party but, unfortunately knows exactly where he will find his wife; looking for Ben. Seeing them together solidifies the knowledge Buddy has held for thirty years, Sally is still – and has always been - in love with Ben.
Buddy shares his knowledge with Phyllis who immediately confronts Sally. But Sally is impervious to conflict because Ben has actually confessed that he made a mistake so many years ago, marrying Phyllis and not Sally; and further suggests that he may want to leave Phyllis. That is all Sally needs to hear to decide to Ben Buddy. But will leaving be that easy, and will newly emboldened Sally ever hear the reluctance in Ben’s voice, despite the passionate, longing kiss they shared.
The musical Follies, by Stephen Sondheim & James Goldman, is a show about remembering. In the background, most of the former Follies girls engaged in a fanciful recollection of their glorious youth; an exercise of fun and camaraderie. Ironically however, in the foreground, our two principle couples are tearing each other apart, even now unable to let go of what could have been, of who and what they always thought they were and who they pretended to be, arguably, all in the name of love.
For me the individual performances were the showstoppers. Follies Girl Stella’s (Terri White) audacious “Who’s That Woman” brilliantly brings back tap dancing and a playful frivolity to the show driving melodrama. Showgirl turned actress Carlotta (Elaine Paige) belts out a awesome rendition of “I’m Still Here.” Follies Girl Hattie’s (Jayne Houdyshell) “Broadway Baby” is a hilarious and awkward ode to the less graceful girl’s dreams of performing on the big stage. Danny Burstein is nothing short of incredible throughout, but particularly so in Buddy’s Folly “The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me Blues.”
There are lots of great things about this production. First and foremost would be the lighting design. Natasha Katz’s ingenious lighting design brilliantly creates two simultaneous color palettes – a muted blue tint for the past and a rich vibrant full spectrum for characters in the presence. The execution is quite remarkable.
For those of us who don’t now the story of Follies, it takes a while for the plot to kicking. The “remember when” goes on a bit, leaving one anxious for the next musical number to break through the nostalgia. The pacing of the Second Act is much better. Introducing a series of solo performances by each of the starring quartet, the lavishness of the Follies is unleashed in a parade of imaginative intricate panniers, elegance glistening gowns, and elaborate towering headdresses. Congratulations to Costume designer Gregg Barnes. For those who appreciate the pageantry of vintage theatre, the second act alone is worth the price of admission; but the whole show is pretty good too.
Follies is running now through June 9, 2012 at:
at the Music Center downtown Los Angeles
135 N. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012