Marquis Theatre, NYC
As far as musical theatre goes, there are few shows as epic as Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece Follies. Originally opening at the Winter Garden in 1971, since its closing it has created a cult of dedicated followers who eagerly attend every revival hoping to catch a glimmer of fading ecstasy. The current production at the Marquis may not be able to scale such overwhelming expectations, but it certainly makes a respectable and entertaining attempt.
Jan Maxwell plays a sexy Phyllis of great power and seething restraint, pulling off the unlikely trick of making "Could I Leave You?" the show stopper that "Losing My Mind" would normally be.Her stage presence breaths with a casual luxury and class, perched on top of an unhappy existence which erupts in Act II to reveal all the deep-seated pain buried beneath. Danny Burstein balances on a similar tightrope of marital misery, keeping his footing more with glib humor. Achieving some of the most relaxed deliveries in the production, Burstein melts into the role of Buddy, acting in a completely unstilted manner that is regretfully uncommon, particularly in musical theatre. Elaine Paige goes for a successful slow burn with "I’m Still Here," making for another of the performance's most memorable moments, and Lora Lee Gayer employees some well-placed comic subtleties, giving a charmingly awkward interpretation of Young Sally. As a whole, the cast is one of this Follies’s most striking features.
Bernadette Peters makes a decent start, using her signature quirks and offbeat timing to create a Sally who is lost in her own delusions. While Peters does not shine as some of her fellow cast members do, she holds her own until reaching her character's most pivotal song. "Losing My Mind" falls flat in Peters’s hands as she stiffly stands center stage, struggling to look like she’s falling apart, squawking out some of the notes in a manner that makes it sound like she’s lost her voice as well. Director Eric Schaeffer is partially to blame for this misfire on one of the show’s most beloved numbers, a fault which is hinted at by his direction of most of the first act. Schaeffer appears outmatched by the scale of this piece and reacts with static staging and dependence on the gimmick of having ghostly showgirls of the past fill the empty parts of the stage that would otherwise go completely unused. Derek McLane’s set design has a making-do, stripped-down quality about it. The proscenium is crumbling and the present decay is clear, but any hints of a former glory are left entirely to the imagination, with only the beautiful ghosts of the past offering any indication of what the place once was.
Given its weaker points, none are glaring enough to cause any significant damage to the overall experience and any bumps in the road are worth weathering for the ride. Any true musical theatre aficionado should see a professional production of Follies at least once in their life and this current production certainly presents a deserving opportunity. - C. Jefferson Thom
Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.