Review: Follies

© Joan MarcusIt’s been a mere ten years since the last Broadway incarnation of Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s Follies, but that ill-conceived version was lamentable enough to warrant another revival sooner than later. Thankfully, the Kennedy Center production has now arrived at the Marquis Theatre, and this beautifully staged, acted and sung rendition might well become the must-see hit that this brilliant if problematic show has never quite managed to be.


Unlike the last go-around, which was populated by fine actors but less than impressive singers (Gregory Harrison, Blythe Danner, Treat Williams and Judith Ivey), director Eric Schaeffer’s production doesn’t stint on the musical aspects of this musical. Staged on a lavish scale with a full orchestra, it gloriously brings Sondheim’s magnificent score to life.


The show, set during the reunion of Ziegfeld Girls-style chorines on the occasion of their former theater being slated for demolition, was originally conceived as a murder mystery. It eventually became a bittersweet portrait of two unhappily married couples whose emotionally charged dynamics, both past and present, are eventually mirrored in a series of old-style production numbers.


The show still doesn’t quite work, for the simple reason that James Goldman’s book never makes us sufficiently care about these drab characters and their marital fates.


But its haunting evocation of a bygone era of show business and brilliant score--which includes such classics as “Broadway Baby,” “I’m Still Here,” “Could I Leave You?” and “Losing My Mind”—are ample compensation, and these elements are beautifully realized here.


Schaeffer has assembled a superb cast, including Bernadette Peters, Jan Maxwell, Danny Burstein and Jan Maxwell as the unhappy couples; Elaine Page as the diva-like Carlotta; and a gallery of theater veterans, including Jayne Houdyshell, Florence Lacey, Mary Beth Peil and Terri White as the aged chorus girls reliving their former glory.


Peters is deeply moving as the troubled Sally, and her powerful renditions of such songs as “In Buddy’s Eyes” and “Losing My Mind” demonstrate yet again her superb abilities as a Sondheim interpreter. Maxwell looks impossibly glamorous and sexy as Phyllis, even while delivering such numbers as “Could I Leave You?” with a visceral intensity. Burstein displays a winning charm as the hapless Buddy, while Raines poignantly conveys the vulnerability underlying Benjamin’s bravado. And, as might be expected, Page knocks her show-stopping number “I’m Still Here” out of the park, as well as garnering consistent laughs along the way.


Although the sterile, modern Marquis Theatre would seem an ill-fit for this show, set designer Derek McLane has effectively drabbed it down by enveloping its entire environs with somber black tarpaulin. But he provides sufficient visual opulence for the second act, when the theater comes alive for a series of lavish production numbers. Gregg Barnes’ eye-popping costumes and Natasha Katz’s frequently haunting lighting are equally effective, as is Warren Carlyle’s choreography, especially for the intricate, beautifully realized “Loveland” and “Story of Lucy and Jessie” numbers.


There are times, especially in the slow-moving opening scene, when one wonders if director Schaeffer will be up to the task. But by the end of this powerful and gorgeous new Follies, all doubts have been removed.


Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway. 877-250-2929,