After seeing Follies 14 times, I think I’m finally ready to give some sort of review. I want to start off by saying that I saw this show back in DC, and I strongly disliked it. I thought James Goldman’s script was very weak, and that my beloved Bernadette Peters was completely miscast as Sally. Boy how things have changed! It’s a different show now - and probably one of the best I’ve ever seen. I am also willing to go out on a limb and say that Bernadette is slightly better than Jan Maxwell (only slightly though … Jan totally kills it as Phyllis). I can’t find a single flaw in this revival, Eric Schaeffer has done a brilliant job with one of Sondheim’s best shows.
Firstly, I wanna talk about the supporting players. All those fabulous women with only brief moments to shine who absolutely nail their numbers:
Terri White: Holy Cow. ‘Who’s That Woman’ is probably one of my top three numbers in the whole show, and possibly my favorite in the first act. It is a STUNNING song, and it’s such a kick to see divas like Bernadette, Jan and Elaine Page singing and dancing in the chorus. Terri totally earns her moment in the spotlight, she’s one of the highlights in a phenomenal production. That voice! … and she sure can tap. Every time I watch this number, I sit there like a big idiot with a huge grin stuck on my face.
Elaine Page: Yeah, I can’t imagine anyone doing a better job on 'I’m Still Here’ (and I’m very familiar with Elaine Stritch, Carol Burnett, and Christine Baranski’s incredible renditions) Page absolutely nails it - and I’m not a huge fan of hers! I think she can be over the top a lot of the time, and I was really worried she was gonna just belt like crazy rather than fully exploring every nuance of Sondheim’s masterpiece. She proved my fears to be totally wrong. She lets the song build up for the first three minutes, exploring every line with the utmost care before letting it rip in a climactic ending. She is SENSATIONAL and could easily take the Tony home.
Jayne Houdyshell: Linda Lavin was one of the few things I loved about the show back in DC, so I was heartbroken that she refused the role on Broadway (although I understand why - she kicked serious ass in 'The Lyons’. It was one of the best performances I saw all year) but I had nothing to fear. Jayne is hilarious, and she certainly can belt. Her version of 'Broadway Baby’ is an utter delight - as is every moment she’s onstage.
Mary Beth Peil: So I should start this by saying that I’ve had a crush on this woman for years. She was exceptional in Sunday in the Park with George (Tonys - what were you thinking?!), she’s great on The Good Wife and one of 2 reasons why I sat through Women on the Verge (the other? Laura Benanti) so I was understandably thrilled that she replaced Regine (who, to put it eloquently, sucked). Mary Beth is one of my favorite things about Follies, and she NAILS 'Ah Paris’. Even after 14 times, I still weep with laughter during 'Beirut has sunshine - that’s all it has.’ She’s also one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. If only she had more stage time.
ALSO: Props to Kiira Schmidt, who is great as Buddys Blues Margie. On that note, Jennifer Foote is also pretty fantastic. I adore Florence Lacey, who is an absolute sweetheart and did a fantastic job as Carlotta back when Elaine was out. Rosalind Elias and Leah Horowitz sing 'One More Kiss’ exquisitely. Lora Lee Gayer has proved herself worthy of portraying young Bernadette, although Kirsten Scott drives me crazy. She’s a lovely girl, but my God is her performance grating. No complaints for Nick Verina or Frederick Strother, they’re fine actors and are completely convincing in their respective roles.
Now onto the really fun part! (If you’re still reading)
Ron Raines: I love him. And I really didn’t in DC. People who complain that his performance is too cold - DUH! There’s a reason Phyllis tells him 'I am talking to a wall’ - he’s supposed to be cold and numb, until the very end, of course. It doesn’t hurt that his voice is absolutely gorgeous. God he has ruined every other version of 'The Road You Didn’t Take’ for me, his is just sublime. 'Live, Laugh, Love’ is my least favorite of the five final follies, perhaps because I don’t completely buy Ben’s breakdown. This is the one area I struggle with of Raines’ performance, it seems a little over the top and not entirely authentic. But overall, I thought he was terrific and certainly deserves a Tony nomination.
Danny Burstein: I’m one of the few people who disliked him in DC, and was totally campaigning to have Mandy Patinkin play Buddy instead (his 'The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me-Blues’ will always be the best version of the song I’ve ever heard, and having him and Bernadette reunite would be a dream come true) but I am now so enchanted by his performance. When he tells Sally 'And you know what my luck is? I love you!’, I lose a piece of my heart. His Buddy is so sweet, so utterly endearing that you can’t resist him, it’s impossible. He nails it in 'Waiting For The Girls Upstairs’, where he is so painfully in love with Sally while she rebuffs him at every turn; 'The Right Girl’ is just lovely to watch, and 'The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me-Blues’ is outstanding - almost as good as Mandy’s. The way he hams it up and then almost loses it towards the end is just thrilling to watch, and so far Burstein definitely gets my vote at the Tonys!
Jan Maxwell: Ugh. I. Adore. This. Woman. Wow.
Okay, I have to say more. 'Could I Leave You?’ is one of the best song performances I’ve ever seen - ever. It’s heart wrenching, brutally honest and flawlessly delivered. Every second of that song (and of her performance) is just sublime. In DC, I thought 'The Story of Lucy and Jessie’ suffered due to her poor dancing, but she has really picked up some skills cause she’s knocking the choreography out of the park lately. She captures the fun woman Phyllis was and still can be and the bitter woman she didn’t want to become just brilliantly. It’s an astonishingly good performance, one of the best I’ve seen in recent times, and deserves plenty of accolades. She cannot be faulted. She plays Phyllis brilliantly ('Could I Leave You’ came on my iPod as I was writing this, how fitting) and for a long times I thought she was the best thing in the show (which pained me because Bernadette is my IDOL)
Bernadette Peters: Yeah. I thought she was miscast as Sally. I didn’t understand why she didn’t want to try to play Phyllis instead, and why Sondheim would give her such a frustrating character. Now I understand perfectly why they chose this role for her. Sally is practically impossible to play, and no one has been able to nail her because she is so damn difficult to figure out. And of course Sondheim knew that if ANYONE could do it, it would be Bernadette. And as of her last 5 performances I am THRILLED to say that she nailed it.
This is what sets apart her performance apart from Jan’s in my opinion - Bernadette doesn’t play Sally brilliantly, she simply is Sally. From the moment she steps on stage and delivers the Prologue just beautifully, to 'Don’t Look At Me’ where you can feel how nervous Sally is and yet she is so cute that you understand why Buddy loves her and why Ben lusts after her. Then in 'Waiting For The Girls Upstairs’ she delivers a masterclass in acting. Whenever Ben steps near her, she stares longingly at his back, and her love for him is palpable. So is her disdain for Buddy. Whenever he moves towards her, her body language completely changes, and her facial expressions show that she is utterly exhausted by him. She doesn’t need to speak to create this back-story between two people, and it’s what makes her my favorite actress. 'In Buddy’s Eyes’ is now impeccable, and to those who criticized her singing - HA. She is delivering it gorgeously every night, and it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite songs in the whole show. She really breaks my heart in 'Too Many Mornings’, where I haven’t seen a woman feels so much love for a man since, ironically, when she sang 'Send in the Clowns’ in A Little Night Music.
And when you realize she’s crazy - WOW. Her Sally was far too hysterical in DC and made me nervous, but now it’s just the right amount of nuts. When you finally realize, it’s totally believable and you feel her agony and understand why she’s the way she is. 'Losing My Mind’, there are no words. God, hearing her voice crack during some of the lines as she struggles through her tears hurts my heart. But what has made Bernadette’s performance so great is that final minute she has before leaving the stage. In it she holds the audience’s attention for a long time without saying a thing, and with only her face she shows us what the scripts doesn’t - Sally finally moving on from Ben, and making some sort of decision to continue on with her life. It’s then that she truly wins me over, and if she doesn’t win her third Tony this year I will be heartbroken.
Um … sorry about my rant! Also, the costumes are soooo beautiful, the set is magnificent, the lighting is very appropriate for the ghosts and the whole show has just come together beautifully. I am devastated that it’s closing, but I get to see it at least 5 more times before then and that shall keep me going, for now.
TODAY IN THEATRE HISTORY: In 2011, The Kennedy Center’s critically acclaimed production of James Goldman and Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning musical Follies, opens at Broadway’s Marquis Theatre. The cast is headed by Bernadette Peters as Sally Durant Plummer, Jan Maxwell as Phyllis Rogers Stone, Danny Burstein as Buddy Plummer, Ron Raines as Benjamin Stone and Elaine Paige as Carlotta Campion.