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11/27/11

Nope. I am Still Not a "Follies" Fan...

To be honest, I think it sucks quite frankly.


Sacrilege, I know; I love Stephen Sondheim like my awesome grandfather he is in my head, but not even his genius could salvage this musical. I can kinda sorta see why it is a giant hit and why the production is constantly revived. In addition, the big name ensemble for the revival currently playing at the Marquis Theater, is enough in itself to sell out any theater.


In theory, the show should work for me. For one, the show is set in 1971 and a big portion of the show revolves around the nostalgia of performing in the 1940’s, one of my favorite decades and a time where theater was king. Also, the show is a simple and subtle concept: the unresolved conflicts and romantic endeavors that occur when the “Follies” performers reunite thirty years after their final performances.

"A sold-out crowd. Now what?"
"Who knows..."
Where does it got wrong? Let’s begin with the HORRIFIC pacing of the show. Literally, almost nothing happens; it can be summed up as follows...

- A Reunion at the Weismann Theatre, days before the now decrepit theater is destroyed.
- Sally and Phyllis arrive with their respective husbands, Buddy and Ben. Something is off in both marriages.
- Full-scale recreations of classic “Follies” numbers from the ensemble as they reflect on the good ole’ days.
- Sally, Phyllis, Buddy and Ben address their present marital dysfunction. Also, Ben and Sally rediscover the love they once shared for each other.
- Some arguing and tense conversations.
- Said four individuals each perform a vaudeville-inspired ballad reflecting emotions or lifestyles they are feeling and/or yearning for.
- Everyone leaves. The end.


I am not exaggerating; that is the entirety of the two-and-a-half hour show. To say the pace is slow is an understatement because…well, as I said, not much happens. That is a two-fold remark because the status quo as we are introduced to the characters does not change by the show’s end. The characters get a little development throughout, but nothing substantial enough to justify what the audience endures and nothing I would consider “growth.”


Another few minutes and she could of
bonked all of those men.
The first act consists of a lot of standing around and talking, with the occasional flashback to the 40’s. Oh sure; the flashbacks are beautifully done with the younger versions of the characters (or the 1940’s characters) taking the stage at the same time of the older, 1970’s characters. I am not downplaying that by any means; the 40’s influence was the only thing keeping my interest. The (40’s) actors were game, the costuming was fantastic (and accurate; no small feat) and their performing was a spectacle to behold.

However, I was mostly bored. In addition, the present-day characters, all their standing around, talking and complaining, was kind of…pathetic. Strong words, I know; but my apathy really kicked in the first twenty minutes. I could not care for the four leads at all and by the end of first Act, they were not particularly likeable (even in an internal sense for the show) and their numbers were nothing to write home about.




In fact, their numbers were mostly talk-sung with no real “umph” added; they bypassed “quiet” and “subtle” and went right into dullsville. Yes, Sondheim knows conversational singing like a walk in the park; but this is a rare occasion where I feel he gets it wrong.


Bernadette Peters is a Broadway legend with a stunner of a voice; she puts her range to good use as Sally, but not her belting power. I had many issues with her because her Bernadette fabulosity overrode the character to where we were not watching Sally…we were watching Sally as played by Bernadette Peters. Also, I’m sorry…but it was hard to get passed how irritating she was and while Sally is many things, irritating is not typically one of them.

The real shame is that the supporting cast got in much better, more lively numbers that made them a hell of a lot more interesting to watch.



Terri White’s Stella and Elaine Paige’s Carlotta were FABULOUS and both numbers have that classic, fun and glitzy “Golden Age of Broadway” feel to them. So what happens? Both characters are mostly ignored before and after their respective numbers. Bad idea.

The second act was a bit of a turnaround, largely because the four leads seemed to unleash their talents in a cathartic fashion. All of that talking and standing around finally resulted in some fun and glam musical numbers; it was like they all had a Red Bull and took to the stage after Intermission.

The last twenty minutes finally commits to the vaudeville style performing that the first Act only touches upon. My issue has always been, as awesome as it is to revisit a performing style that echoes the early 20th century, that this sequence feels jammed in. After a deliberate (or deliberately slow) pace, they churn out four numbers with no break that finally start to make the leads more interesting. It just feels inorganic because the producers have an epiphany like “oh crap; this show is a snoozefest. We need SPECTACLE and make it snappy!”



Danny Burstein (Buddy) and Ron Raine (Ben) are talented, but their performances were competent at best. A part of me thinks they were trapped within the confines of bland characters and they did the best they could. Still, these two numbers were each character’s best moments overall; unfortunately, it was way too little, way too late for them.


"Screw you; I'm FIERCE!"
The real revelation is Jan Maxwell’s Phyllis, who brought the house down on “Could I Leave You?” She brought an edge and style to the number that I have never seen before; it truly was amazing. She followed that up with a stunning performance of “The Story of Lucy and Jessie.” Again, it may not offset the fact that she did little to nothing in the first Act, except a funny one-liner here or there, but if I had any say in the matter, I would give her a Tony nomination.

In the end, it is a fine production that I would recommend for anyone who likes Follies…and I know there is a huge fanbase for the show. The only real problem with this revival is Peters, who was not really suited for her role. For the uninitiated or for those not particularly fond of slow-moving shows, you can pass on this one and see some other alternative.


You see? We are not THAT boring.
We are in costume!
My distaste for this show is apparent, even amidst some impressive Sondheim numbers, a great concept and a 40’s setting. If they wanted to make Follies a show about theater nostalgia and a social commentary on life during and after 1940, they shouldn’t have bogged it down with relatively uninspiring leads and conflicts. An even bigger shame is that there is a lot history and thought put into the show for such a lackluster result; by referencing such an iconic era, even by 2011 standards where there is a 1960’s revival in pop culture and entertainment, there should not be much in the way of limitations. I praise the show on its accurate 40’s references, costuming and some of its musical performances/staging; all they had to do was make an engaging storyline and not weight it down with tedious content. The best they came up with is a cynical take on marriage; ho hum…

I still question why this revival happened in the first place; but since that argument is long past debating (the last revival in 2001 was nominated for 5 Tonys), a more relevant one would by why the show continues to be so long and uneventful? Why squander a talented ensemble for the sake of, essentially, a love triangle to dominate the proceedings?


Too many questions...

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