Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond
Look Back In Anger
October 23, 2011
The Marquis Theater on Broadway is one of those products of 1980s architecture that today feels like the Battlestar Galactica (original version) upon entry. I was there recently on my last sojourn to New York and mention it now before it gets away from me. The Marquis couldn’t be farther from the decrepit crumbling turn-of-the-last-century palace where Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s Follies is set. And yet the revival of the show currently running there does a surprisingly good job of getting you to overlook that fact. The entirety of the theater, aside from the seating, is draped in charcoal grey drop clothes remaking the space into something different. This Cylon-like transformation (new version) is also the main order of business for Bernadette Peters who starts as Sally. She must transform from one of the brightest and most glamorous stars into a desperate, middle-aged housewife all too eager to throw away her marriage and family for the memory of 40-year-old never-was romance. It’s a bit of a stretch, and as much as I enjoyed her performance, I could never quite believe that this attractive woman was quite the loser in love she pretended to be.
Of course the other hard part for Peters and the rest of the cast is managing to take these legendary Sondheim songs back from other performers who hold onto them in our minds with a vice like grip including Barbara Cook and Elaine Stritch. Luckily, many in the cast do just that. The most successful of these belongs to stage legend Elaine Paige who gets the juicy “I’m Still Here” and runs with it. It’s a goosebump moment and everyone in the audience knows it. I was also particularly taken with Jan Maxwell as Phyllis whose bristling build-up throughout the evening barreling into “The Story of Lucy and Jessie” was marvelous. Danny Burstein was a pitch perfect Buddy from start to finish as well. And I would be remiss not to mention the Broadway debut of opera-legend Rosalind Elias who sings "One More Kiss". She shows up long enough to remind everyone exactly how to sing, leaving her own stamp in the night's comings and goings.
But even with these successes as well as a great version of “Who’s That Woman?”, this particular version of Follies felt a little off balance to me. There is both nostalgia and the bitter disillusionment of time in the show of course but Eric Schaeffer goes more for an angry version of the latter than the former. It’s a completely legitimate approach mind you, but one that can be rather cold and meticulous by the evening’s end. There are plenty of ghostly showgirls haunting their latter-day doppelgangers but even this gives off more of a haunted vibe than a fanciful one. Certainly the show is a respectable addition to the storied tradition of Sondheim revivals on Broadway and I would recommend you see it. But it doesn’t quite live up to the quality of several other recent Sondheim revivals including John Doyle’s versions of Company and Sweeney Todd or the last go-round for Sunday in the Park with George. This is a limited run through January 22 and a chance to see one of the great Broadway musicals in a high-end production, so do go see it before it is gone.
I did like Ron Raines' performance overall. I didn't mention it largely because I felt it didn't connect with me as much as the others. Of course Ben isn't the most immediately likable of characters either which always makes it harder for audiences to grab onto them, which I'll admit I'm not immune to. To be honest, I liked Raines better than Peters overall as well, but given her billing it's hard to ignore her.