At this point, it’s impossible to not have heard or read about the rave reviews of recent revival of Sondheim’s Follies, directed by Eric Schaeffer. The New York Times calls it, “vibrant“ and Time Out New York says, “…this is a show no grown-up should miss”. It’s a masterpiece of a production. The cast, the orchestrations, and design are all stellar. Currently, it’s playing as a limited engagement and it’s breaking box-office records at the Marquis Theatre. I can’t argue with numbers and the general reaction that everyone has had with the production, but I can say that I walked away not caring as much as I probably should have.
I think the main error was the fact that I wasn’t able to connect to the material as quickly as I needed to. It took me until, “Who’s That Woman”, sung by the unbelievable, effortless Terri White, to actually feel something for the characters. The lack of emphasis of the younger characters at the beginning of the show created a sense that this musical is only for old people. (Obviously, that changed in the 2nd Act, but it was hard to digest at the beginning.)
As the characters started to unfold, the raw emotions were easily relatable to at any age. Jan Maxwell (Phyllis Roger Stone) was a triumph in her song, “Could I Leave You?”. It was an absolute triumph (worthy of an instant Tony nomination). Ron Raines (Benjamin Stone), Maxwell’s onstage husband, was equally as impressive with his rich baritone voice that made his solo, “The Road You Didn’t Take” sound like honey. The two of them had an uncanny stage relationship that was deeply moving.
My other main hang-up I had was Bernadette Peters (Sally Durant) and Danny Burstein’s (Buddy Plummer) relationship. I just didn’t get it. Peters’ vocals were filled with her classic “character” charm, except I felt it didn’t fit Durant’s character. (Granted, she could have been tired because the cast had spent the beginning part of the week in the recording studio creating the cast recording. I honestly think that Peters’ voice was tired and worn-down.) Peters’ two main songs, “In Buddy’s Eyes” and “Losing My Mind” were completely lackluster. I felt Burstein was making up for this issue and was working too hard throughout the entire show. Since I never really believed their relationship, I wasn’t heartbroken for either, nor was I happy when they walked off the stage together. Durant was a psychotic emotional drunk, with little redeeming qualities. Do I dare say that the musical theatre legend, Bernadette Peters, was miscast? I feel blasphemous and shameful even questioning my allegiance to Ms. Peters. It was after all my first time seeing Ms. Peters live.
Sondheim’s beautiful lush score and witty lyrics is where the true masterpiece lies in this piece. The orchestra, directed by James Moore, was remarkable. I’m very excited that I will be able to relive the score with the new cast recording. (Hopefully, Ms. Peters performance will “read” different on the recording.)
It was also an honor to see Ms. Elaine Paige (Carlotta) perform. Her rendition of “I’m Still Here” was stunning – funny, heartfelt, engaging and deeply emotional.
Overall, I was very impressed with the production qualities and performances of Follies but I needed to connect on a different level to really “love” the show as so many others have already have. Whether or not that was the director, Eric Schaeffer’s, fault or my own, I still left thinking that it missed the opportunity to be sensational. Fantastic, yes, but it never reached sensational for me.