Saturday, May 5, 2012

FOLLIES opens at the Ahmanson - MAY 2012

When FOLLIES premiered in 1971 it garnered 7 Tony awards and a reputation that has followed it throughout its several revivals here and abroad. The often dark but tune filled story of “old timers” getting together one last time before the theatre where they performed is turned into a parking lot is set around a Ziegfeld type show that was produced in the years “between the wars”. The Kennedy Center mounted this revival in a six week run (sold out) that was so popular it moved on to Broadway last year and through a very lucky turn of events is now in a limited run at the Ahmanson Theatre of Los Angeles Music Center (through June 9, 2012). The original cast of the 1971 production and tour featured names like Dorothy Collins, Alexis Smith, Yvonne De Carlo and Gene Nelson. The Tony Award nominated Broadway cast, many of whom have traveled out west with the show, features Tony nominated leads Danny Burstein, Jan Maxwell and Ron Raines; Elaine Paige (the first lady of the British Musical Theatre), California’s own opera diva Carol Neblett and a welcomed addition the stunning Victoria Clark (Light in the Piazza) replacing Bernadette Peters who had "scheduling conflicts". With a 41 member cast and a 28 piece orchestra FOLLIES is a big show boasting a lofty 3 story set, glorious costumes and some remarkable stage magic made by numerous designers, veteran performers and new comers alike. “Who’s That Woman”, just one of a score bursting with pastiche numbers, came close to getting a standing ovation at the May 4 previrew performance as the former chorines join with the ghosts of their younger selves for a spectacular tap number. The stage is populated with "ghosts", wandering about, preoccupied with memories of past times and occasionally joining in on a musical number such as the Viennese Opera Stars duet with herself performed with breath taking finesse by Carol Neblett and Leah Horowitz – their final notes hang in the air and are suddenly gone-superb! These "ghosts" are better used in this production than ever before since they seem to have a genuine connection across the years and often add a touching commentary to numbers by their silent mannerisms. Victoria Clark is wonderful as Sally Durant "direct from Phoenix" and may be the best voice to sing this taxing, demanding role ever. When I reviewed the cast album I mentioned that Bernadette Peters (a favorite of mine) did not do well with music I have heard her sing better, elsewhere. Miss Clark has done this part before but never as well as she does it here and her acting under the direction of Eric Schaeffer brings new layers to Sally who is dissolving a bit mentally as her marriage and world are looking precarious. Jan Maxwell is a vulnerable Phyllis, hostess and glamour girl and wife of a politician, this woman wants only to be seen for who she was not who she has become. She is more angry than some of her predecessors in the role but also shows the vulnerability of a woman on the edge-she deserves the Tony. Elaine Paige (I'm Still Here), Jayne Howdyshell (Broadway Baby) and vivacious Terri White (Who's That Woman) all give star turns in their respective numbers. If I have a complaint it would be that the sound design seemed flat lacking the depth and majesty required by Jonathan Tunnick’s wonderful orchestrations. This is one of those things that take a while to work out and I’m sure has the sound designer tinkering tonight. I would urge all Sondheim/Broadway Musical lovers to grab some tickets and don’t miss this spectacular, toe tapping, thought provoking tour through the follies of life as explored in the FOLLIES on the stage. Center Theatre group ticket site (www.centertheatregroup.org) tickets range from $30.00 to 125.00 a seat-if you can manage it, sit where you can enjoy the scope and intricacy of this production (My seats in Orchestra row N were close to perfect).

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