Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond
May 07, 2012
Not able to get out to New York during this Tony Awards season? Well for once, if you want to sample a bit of what might garner an award on June 10 this year, you need go no further than the Ahmanson Theater downtown where James Goldman and Stephen Sondheim’s Follies have been imported almost perfectly intact following its recent Broadway run. (And for those of you old enough to remember, this may seem familiar in that almost the exact same circumstances followed the Broadway production of the original production which subsequently ran mostly untouched in L.A. in 1972.) In addition to being nominated for best revival of a musical, the show has (count them) four of this year's nominees in the cast, Jan Maxwell, Ron Raines, Danny Burstein, and Jane Houdyshell. Oddly enough the most marketable star from the show’s Broadway run, Bernadette Peters, is the about the only one who didn't make it out to L.A., leaving the role of Sally Durant Plummer to another Broadway star and prior Tony winner, Victoria Clark. Peters was one of my major caveats to liking the show when I saw it in New York last year, and Clark fits much more naturally into the role of dowdy Sally who may well be losing her mind in her pursuit to rekindle a three decades old adolescent fling.
Often when Center Theater Group imports shows from New York, which sadly represents the majority of their production output these days, the shows often come out watered down or decidedly less focused and smaller in scale. Not so this time around. This production of Follies, which originated at Washington’s Kennedy Center is brasher, tighter and much more ferocious than before. Everyone of those Tony nominees is a winner. Jan Maxwell’s Phyllis is graceful, lean, and worldly. She delivers a scorching version of "The Story of Lucy and Jessie" complete with all the male dancers one could ask for for the heavy lifting. Your heart breaks for her almost as much as it does for Burstein’s Buddy who’ll never fulfill the dreams of the wife he desperately loves. He's vocally warm and provides an excellent complement to Raines performance as Ben, which seemed more comfortable and certain here than I remember. The smaller roles abound with treasures. Soprano and opera star Carol Neblett has joined the cast here in L.A. in the role of Heidi. Elaine Paige still delivers a show-stopping rendition of “I’m Still Here." I'd say it's a unique moment, but it isn't. This show is filled with numbers that elicit tons of enthusiastic time stretching applause. It's loaded with Sondheim's best music sung unforgettably well by a first rate cast.
That Follies arrives amid an Ahmanson season of musicals and plays targeted at people who watch teen movies or music videos is reassuring. The show is an old-fashioned one with its many musical tributes to a bygone era of the theater. Each is a gem with a melancholy heart that gets worn more or less on the sleeve of each performer. The central conceit of the show with its many ghost-like show girls wandering among the living characters underscores the pervasive passing of time that all of the characters are singing and talking about in the show at the most basic level. It's an adult entertainment and admittedly may not be your cup of tea if your idea of a musical demands teen cheerleaders or brooding young rock stars. It's about a generation coming to grips with the passing decades and the choices they've made to get where they are. My advice—see it early, because you'll likely want to go more than once.
You missed the irony in that 1972 Los Angeles Follies run: It was the opening production in the then-new Shubert Theater in Century City. Yes, a show about a theater being torn down opened a theater that has since been torn down.