Follies: The Concert Version
Book by James Goldman
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed and Choreographed by Norb Joerder, ssdc
Musical Direction by Jason Wynn
The St. Bart's Players (www.members.aol.com/bartsweb)
Apr 26-May 4 –www.members.aol.com/bartsweb/shows/follies.htm for performance times
Review by Judd Hollander
Head and shoulders above the 2001 Broadway attempt, the St. Bart's Players presents a production of Follies which can only be called "titanic." Boasting a cast of 31, there isn't a false note to be heard, sung or spoken as the various elements of the show combine to lovingly recreate the haunted and wistful atmosphere of this bittersweet tale of choices made and roads not taken.
The story takes place in the Weissmann theatre, a place
which has seen better days, in 1971
Among those present are two middle-aged couples; Phyllis Rogers Stone (Merrill Vaughn) and husband Benjamin (Brien Milesi), and Sally Durant Plummer (Lesley Berry) and spouse Buddy (Kevin Kiniry). The ladies were Follies Girls some 30 years earlier, which is where they met their husbands, who used to hang around the stage door waiting for the girls to come out. (As explained in the nostalgic number Waiting for the Girls Upstairs.)
It becomes clear almost immediately that neither couple is in a happy marriage. Phyllis and Ben, both rather cold and emotionless, spend most of the time trading barbs with one another, with each having taken lovers over the years. Meanwhile Buddy, hurt that Sally has always carried a torch for Ben (she married Buddy on the rebound) has likewise found solace elsewhere. As these four interact with one another, the ghosts of their younger selves appear, showing them at a time where the future was filled with promise and everything was possible.
For the two couples, the reunion becomes a catharsis of sorts; if not one of healing, then one of acknowledgment and painful acceptance. During the course of the show, one sees the pain, loneliness and longing come screaming out of each of them as they say aloud for perhaps the first time, how unhappy they've become as they mourn the past thirty wasted years. They also bitterly realize that they themselves are to blame for their current situations. In the most poignant moment of the show, via an intricate dance of tightly choreographed crosscutting dialogue, they rail at their past selves for making the wrong decisions and choosing what they thought they wanted for all the wrong reasons. Each of the four also gets to act out their frustrations in song and dance as with such numbers as Buddy's Blues, Losing My Mind, The Story of Lucy and Jessie (brilliantly done by Vaughn) and the heartbreaking Live Laugh Love (sung by Milesi). Although their future, like all futures, is uncertain, by the end of the show at least the past has been faced and begun to be dealt with.
While the above foursome comprises the major storyline in the musical, numerous other Follies girls also get their moments in the spotlight as they reveal what has happened to them over the years. Some continue to dance, such as Emily Whitman (Robyn Macey) and her husband Theodore (John Taylor) who just bought an Arthur Murray dance studio franchise; Carlotta Campion (Barbara Blomberg) went on to fame and fortune, though not without a few bumps and bruises along the way; and Hattie Walker (Jill Conklin), who can be usually found appearing in, or auditioning for, a Broadway show (and always looking for her next turn in the spotlight).
Each of these stories come alive thanks to the wonderful Sondheim score which, unlike many musicals that mainly focus on the leads, is dispersed throughout the cast, allowing numerous members of the company to shine. Among the many show-stopping highlights is Conklin’s delivery of Broadway Baby and Blomberg's absolutely riveting rendition of I'm Still Here, perhaps the ultimate showbiz survivor song. There’s also the wonderful Beautiful Girls, which has the various women parading down the theatre runway, with their sashes, one final time.
Just as important as the songs are the various dance routines which often have the participants working and gliding alongside the ghostly images of their younger selves. Such as the wonderful Who's That Woman? mirror dance. As the former Follies Girls do an old routine, their former selves appear in the background and slowly work their way into the number, until each ghost is right beside their present self. Also quite lovely is the beautiful Bolero d' Amour where a present-day couple (Lana Krasnyansky, James (Jed) Danforth) dances side by side with their images from the past (Kate Chamuris, Jonathan Cody White). These scenes carry an extra poignancy because so many of the actors playing the ghosts look very much like younger versions of the actors playing the present-day characters.
Great credit must go to Norb Joerder's direction and choreography, as well as Jason Wynn's musical direction, both coming together to present a virtually flawless production, envisioning not only the emotions and themes of the show, but the ambiance as well. Running approximately two and a half hours, there are no lags or dull spots to slow the story down. Just as important are Kurt Alger's wonderful costumes, Anne Lommel's minimalist sets (basically a bare stage with a few key set pieces and props scattered about), and Michael Megliola's excellent lighting. This is quite simply, the most perfect version of Follies to grace the stage in many a year.
Also in the cast are Marielena Logsdon, Michael Vannoni, Kristin Savarese, Carlos Jacinto, Chazmond J. Peacock, Melissa Broder, Joe Gambino, Hope Landry, Vikki Willoughby, Bonnie Berens, Gayle Artino, Jessica Swersey, Samantha Dworken, Susan Oettle, Trent Henry, Jim Roumeles, Patrick Santos and Anthony Zillmer.
Musical Accompaniment: Piano: Jason Wynn, Drums: Jim Mansfield, Bass: Julie Danielson, Strings: Mark Britt, Sax/Clarinet: Josh Johnson, Sax/Flute: Scott Litroff, Trumpet 1: Antonio Thompson, Trumpet 2: Robert Scott.
Copyright 2008 by Judd Hollander
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