The Many Reasons I Love “Follies”

Every Friday look for a column written by The Broadway Critic Blog’s newest columnist, Mr. Tyler Martins (@mrtylermartins). His passionate love for Sondheim will probably dominate the conversation, but his love for musical theatre is palpable. 

The many reasons I love Follies….

I love the plot…

Everyone loves a party, don’t they? Follies is just that: a party! A depressing, bleak party…but a party nonetheless! (Don’t worry – there’ll be plenty of alcohol involved.) Thirty years have passed since the hay day of the Weisman Follies, a musical revue similar to that of the Ziegfeld, and the crumbling Weisman Theater will come alive for one final night before it is demolished. The story of Follies focuses on two unhappy, married couples amidst a reunion of showgirls: Ben and Phyllis Stone; and Buddy and Sally Plummer. Sally’s been in love with Ben ever since the Follies. Buddy knows this and has been having an affair with Margie, a girl he sees when travelling (which is often, as he is a travelling salesman). Ben is a powerful, formidable politician who is always too busy with some dinner, or some charity function. Phyllis plays the part of a politicians’ wife, organizing “dinners for ten, elderly men from the UN” and is terribly, terribly unhappy. Happy crowd, eh? While the middle-aged couples confront some unpleasant truths about their past and present and come face to face with the future, showgirls from the Weisman Follies perform their signature act, sometimes accompanied by the ghost of their former selves.

I love the score…

The score to Follies is a masterpiece. In reality, it is two scores: the follies numbers; and the book numbers. The follies numbers, or rather, the songs performed during the Weisman Follies, imitate the style of composers and lyricists of the 1920’s-1950’s, such as Harold Arlen, Dorothy Fields, George Gershwin, and Lorenz Hart. The book numbers focus on the turmoil between the four central characters and are chillingly beautiful and breathtaking when juxtaposed with the vaudevillian theme of the follies numbers. The integration between the book numbers and the follies numbers is just brilliant. The way the past meets the present is just astonishing…especially with Jonathan Tunick’s rich orchestrations and a 28-piece orchestra (which will be used in the upcoming revival).

I love the character, Benjamin Stone…

Benjamin Stone may be one of the hardest Sondheim roles to pull off, basically because Benjamin Stone is underwritten. Benjamin Stone is a successful and powerful politician and businessman. In his Act 1 solo, “The Road You Didn’t Take”, Ben mulls over the choices he made in life, and lies to Sally (and himself) that he was happy with his life. The audience, however, can see right through him, thanks to the dissonant note at the end of each phrase. (Like I said, Sondheim = genius.) What Ben really is, is insecure, unhappy and longing. Something about Ben speaks to me. We’re both ambitious, headstrong, coming from “humble beginnings”… and when he takes the stage during the final follies number, “Live Laugh Love,” he comes undone.

I love the actress, Jan Maxwell…

Many people are excited to see Bernadette Peters in the upcoming revival of Follies. I, however, am losing my mind (pardon the pun) to see Jan Maxwell, starring opposite Bernadette Peters. Jan will play the high society, cold and calculating Phyllis Stone. I have admired Jan Maxwell for quite some time, and fell in love with her after spending a night researching her, watching clips of past stage roles. In the 2010 Broadway season, she was nominated for two Tony Awards alone: Best Leading Actress for her role in The Royal Family and Featured Actress for her role in Lend me a Tenor. In the Kennedy Center Production of Follies, she was critically acclaimed – imagine my joy when I heard she was reprising her role on Broadway.

I love the song, “Losing My Mind”…

Everyone has a favorite song – a song that you can listen to on repeat for hours, days, months, even. Sometimes that song is cheery and upbeat, and makes you want to get up and tap dance. Other times that song is quiet, beautiful and makes you emotional. Not surprisingly, my favorite song comes from Follies and is of the latter kind. “Losing My Mind” is the quintessential torch song. Sally, in her follies number, sings about the unrequited love she carries, and how it is taking her to the brink of insanity. Fashioned after George Gershwin’s “The Man I Love,” the song is lyrically simple, with the repetition of “losing my mind” no less than 6 times (yes, I counted).  The emotion conveyed through that song, the yearning, the pain, the hurt…it’s overwhelming. I cannot listen to it without tears. My favorite rendition of the song is Dorothy Collin’s, who is heartbreaking. (She was also the original Sally in Follies). Many artists have sung this song – from Barbara Cook to Julie McKenzie (who takes the final note up an octave to great success) to Liza Minnelli’s famed (or rather, infamous) rendition with the Pet Shop Boys (I cannot listen to it for more than 5 seconds). Bernadette Peters will sing this beautiful song in the upcoming revival of Follies.

Watch Dorothy Collins perform “Losing My Mind.”

Not surprisingly, I already ordered my ticket for the first preview of Follies. Will I see you at the Marquis Theater during its run? What about the show do you love? Or, what about the show do you dislike? Start the discussion…


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