Disclaimer: Tyler Martins saw FOLLIES on the first preview. No press tickets were given; He purchased his own ticket. FOLLIES opens on September 12th, 2011.
The essence of FOLLIES is captured by a single moment, as Heidi takes the stage during the second act to sing the haunting operatic waltz “One More Kiss.” As Heidi looks over to her ghost counterpart, she sings “all things beautiful must die.” Up on the stage, you see Heidi, a frail, elderly woman join her younger, beautiful ghost in singing a lush and rich operetta about lost love. Juxtaposed against a theater in ruins, the audience realizes that all things beautiful do die. The rose-colored glasses of youth break, the future seems hopeless and the past is glorified because everything was possible (and nothing made sense).
The orchestra, led by Musical Director James Moore, is in top shape. From the wailing saxophone in the “Prologue,” the harps in “In Buddy’s Eyes,” the Ginzler Flutes in “Waiting for the Girls Upstairs” to the violins in “Losing My Mind” – not a note was missed and the score came to life in a dazzling, spectacular way with rich, beautiful orchestrations. Musically, the cast was vocally strong and in good shape. The reinstated trio ending of “Rain on the Roof/Ah, Paree!/Broadway Baby” came through excellently, with Jayne Houdyshell’s Hattie delivering a very memorable rendition of “Broadway Baby” – bringing to mind the role’s originator, Ethel Shutta, yet still distinctively different.
Elaine Paige delivered an impassioned “I’m Still Here” – it was exhilarating to see her build the number the way she did. Many complain about the staging of the number but the more thought I put into it, the more I realize it’s genius. At first, she starts off surrounded by waiters and begins to sing with a cool attitude. Then, almost as if the party setting fades away, Carlotta takes center stage and builds the song with such anger and triumph. Carlotta was singing the song to all the naysayers who tried to keep her down, not to the waiters around her. You believe that Carlotta fought for her survival. It was a thrilling moment that left me panting.
Terri White brought the house down with her powerful contralto in “Who’s That Woman,” leveling the roof of the Marquis Theater and stopping the show cold. Backed up by the cast of leading ladies hoofing and tapping, shadowed by their ghost counterparts, the show was stopped for minutes. The applause surged, dimmed, surged, dimmed and surged yet again before the Terri White tried to gain control of the show with her line “Well, wasn’t that a blast?” The mirror number was a highlight of the show and is truly one of the best choreographed numbers in this production.
Of the four leads, Danny Burstein and Jan Maxwell are standouts. Danny Burstein’s Buddy blew me away – he was a thrilling surprise. His take on “The Right Girl” was heart-wrenching and angry. You felt his pain, his hurt. You understood that he had a mistress only to fill the hole in his heart, put there by Sally. For the first time, I understood the complexity of the “The Right Girl.” Applause did not follow the song – it as almost as if the audience had applauded, the buildup to the following scene would be ruined. Danny knocked “Buddy’s Blues” right out of the park. Jan Maxwell stopped the show cold whenever she was on stage. Whether it was her off-the-cuff remarks to Ben about puppy love at 53, or looking bored while a young, attractive waiter kissed her, Jan Maxwell brought the show to a stop. When Jan delivered the waltz “Could I Leave You,” it was as if the air was sucked out of the room. I would not be surprised to see the Tony Awards go to Jan and Danny. Ron Raines sings the role beautifully, and Bernadette Peters is heartbreaking as Sally.
The Broadway production of FOLLIES is a rich, dazzling and first-class production. From the Showgirls costumes in Loveland to the draperies covering the entire Marquis Theater, to the ornate stairs where the former Weismann Girls parade one last time, each scene, each moment of FOLLIES delivers. It can only grow and tighten during the preview period and should not be missed. As Ben and Phyllis leave the stage at the end of Act Two, you know they will be alright. They are going to make their own hope and it’s the hardest thing they’ll ever do. But as Sally and Buddy exit, their situation is direr. There is no hope for them. Sally ignores Buddy as she leaves and Buddy stops himself from putting his arm around her. Eerily, a ghost of a former showgirl follows them out and slams the door of the Weismann Theater on the Young Four. It’s a metaphor, you see: some ghosts can be left behind, but sometimes, as in the case of Sally and Buddy, the past cannot be erased.