Tuesday, September 20, 2011

WLS Theater Review: "Follies"

A group of friends come together for one last hurrah when a beloved institution of yesteryear is set to be destroyed after it is perceived as obsolete and antiquated.  They reminisce about how things “used to be” and reflect pensively on choices made in their youth. Am I describing a 2011 soap gathering, or the opening moments of Broadway’s new revival of Stephen Sondheim’s 1971 musical “Follies?”  Sadly, it could apply to both.  So it’s a damn good thing that “Follies” dazzles, amazes, and astounds its audience, while sharing stories of ruin, regret, and remorse. 

For those unfamiliar with the premise, the show takes place on the eve of destruction of the Weismann “Follies” theater, a New York palace that housed skimpily clothed female singer and dancers between the two major World Wars.  Thirty years after the shows stopped running, we learn the theater, “in a final burst of glory, will become a parking lot.”  The ingenues of Follies past, and their husbands, are gathered in 1971 for one last night of singing, dancing, remembering, and questioning. 

Front and center are couples Sally and Buddy (Bernadette Peters and Danny Burstein), and Phyllis and Ben (Jan Maxwell and GUIDING LIGHT’S Ron Raines).  We soon learn that behind the glitter and glamor of the festivities there is a dark and painful angst that haunts each of these individuals.  Sally has spent much of the past thirty years regretting her choice to marry Buddy while pining over Ben.  Phyllis has had to become hardened by the reality that Ben simply cannot care for her as she had hoped.  Buddy is forced to confront the reality of having spent his life in love with a woman he could never please.  And Ben, slowly and surely, is brought to his literal and emotional knees admitting that he is incapable of feeling love. 

This quadrant in and of itself will captivate the minds and hearts of any soap fan who has ever watched enjoyed watching couples attract and repel each other at the same time (ie, Roger & Holly on GL, Todd & Blair on OLTL, Alan & Monica on GH, Lionel & Augusta on SB).  But "Follies" also astonishes and beguiles its audience with its knock-your-socks-off musical numbers.  From recognizable hits like “Broadway Baby,” “I’m Still Here,” and “Losing My Mind” to lesser known show stoppers such as “Who’s That Woman,” “Could I Leave You?” and “The God-Why-You-Don’t-Love-Me-Blues,” you will not be able to spend a minute not mesmerized by the explosion of energy and talent coming at you, mostly from performers over 50 (and above)!. 

GUIDING LIGHT viewers will recall that the loss of Alan Spaulding in the show’s final week was one of the saddest deaths in its history.  I am pleased to say that Ron Raines the actor is alive, well, and literally kicking, in this fantastic show.  Raines spent 16 years perfecting the art of tempering Alan’s despicable acts with a pinch of vulnerability and an underlying sense of desperate loneliness.  He brings those strengths to the stage in "Follies" as Benjamin Stone, a man who has achieved success in every area of his life except in his heart.  Raines brilliantly makes the audience despise this figure, while reluctantly feeling sympathetic toward his tragic plight.  Jan Maxwell, as Ben’s wife Phyllis, offers one of the most complex and staggering performances you will see on Broadway this year. 


WHAT IS IT:   The 2011 Broadway revival of the 1971 Musical “Follies,” starring Bernadette Peters, Jan Maxwell, Danny Burstein, Ron Raines, and Elaine Paige.  Book by James Goldman, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Directed by Eric Schaffer. 

Witnessing couples wrestle with resentment and regret is a beloved staple of daytime.  Not to mention the opportunity to see three time Emmy nominee Ron Raines (GL) up close and in action. 

BOTTOM LINE: Soap fans of 2011 will relate to the sadness and grief one feels when they witness their beloved institution getting torn down in favor of becoming a parking lot (or, in our case, a generic talk show with “The” in the title). 

VERDICT: Don’t let missing "Follies" become your lifetime regret.  Buy your tickets here!

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Therapist in New York City who specializes in treating depression, stress management, anger management, ageism, and grief/loss issues. He is also the author of the popular book "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve," currently available at Amazon.com. For more information about scheduling a Skype consultation or a speaking engagement, please email him at Shouldless@gmail.com.

1 comment:

  1. This is a fabulous review of this fine classic Sondheim musical. I've loved Bernadette Peters's work for most of my life. She & Ron Raines always set theatre audiences on fire with their performances. Thanks for the fine write-up, Damon! :-)