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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Follies

In 2003, in the Signature (Arlington, VA) production, Eric Schaeffer demonstrated that he is capable of directing a sensitive, textured, multidimensional, heart-breaking Follies. Has he forgotten everything he knew back then? Did he feel that the much larger Eisenhower Theatre (Kennedy Center, Washington, DC) required much larger acting? Was he afraid that the subscription audience at the Kennedy Center wouldn't be able to appreciate the nuances enjoyed by the Signature audience? Whatever the reason(s), while his 2003 Follies was one of the best I've seen, this current version is definitely the worst. (For the record, many people in the audience clearly enjoyed it a great deal.)

Schaeffer's first mistake is using a pared-down version of the book, in which character development and atmosphere are given short-shrift and relationships are insufficiently delineated. This wouldn't matter as much if Schaeffer had directed the actors to take up the slack. Instead, he has led them into one-dimensional, ham-handed performances that telegraph the obvious points while completely ignoring the subtle ones.

Here's the rundown: Phyllis (Jan Maxwell) is angry. Ben (Ron Raines) is angry. Buddy (Danny Burstein) is angry. Sally (Bernadette Peters) is losing her mind. Period.

There is no sign of the spark between Phyllis and Ben that makes their somewhat happy ending effective. Maxwell shows no build or development in "Could I Leave You?" and Raines sings every note in every song the same exact way. Burstein's Buddy has a bit of a trajectory, going from vaguely hopeful to angry and resigned, but his version of "The Right Girl" is all grimaces and grunts.

Bernadette Peters, very much the star of this production, is not up to the task. She gives a whiny, teary, baby-voiced performance that is occasionally flat-out embarrassing. In fact, to find a line reading as bad as her "If you don't kiss me, Ben, I think I'm going to die," I have to go all the way back to Linda Ronstadt in The Pirates of Penzance in the 1970s. And Peters' "Losing My Mind" is dreadful, featuring every obvious depiction of losing one's mind short of eye-rolling.

The supporting cast is no better. Elaine Paige's "I'm Still Here" is about her ego and not about the song. Linda Lavin's "Broadway Baby" is about her ego and not about the song. God only knows what Regine's "Ah Paris" is about, but it's certainly not the song. Terri White's rendition of "Who's That Woman?" is good, but the direction removes the bittersweetness, leaving it as one-dimensional as the rest of the show.

The good points: Rosalind Ellis and Leah Horowitz did a lovely job on "One More Kiss," providing more subtlety than the rest of the show combined. Bernadette Peters' dresses were both beautiful, though the first one was wrong for the character. My friends and I had a lovely trip to DC. The crab cake at lunch on the way home was amazing.

($115 seats, 4th row center)

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with you more. I had to stop myself from laughing at Peters acting for fear my fellow audience members and probable Peters' fans might beat me up. However nothing hurt me more in this production than (my favorite) Mirror number, which was turned from poignant to snazzy. I did like most of the costumes, though!

Alaine said...

Judging from all the comments on BroadwayWorld and All that Chat, your opinion is very much in the minority here.

Wendy Caster said...

@Alaine: I completely agree. My friends and I are definitely in the minority, and it puzzles me. I just don't get what people saw in this production. To me, it was full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Often when I disagree with people, I can see where their point of view is coming from. In this case, I'm baffled.

Alaine said...

Maybe you were hoping for a point of view that runs counter to what the director was going for. He seems to have made some pretty distinct decisions on staging (or lack of it). I won't see the production for a few weeks so I can't yet comment on its merits or shortcomings, but it is always interesting to read different perspectives.

Anonymous said...

For the most part I agree with you Wendy...like you I traveled to DC to see Follies....fortunately for me, I added two shows just for fun because I "knew" I'd still love Follies. Both other shows were far better. I can't understand the reviews and the semi standing ovation. Have our standards been so lowered that we can put any revival up and it will be well recieved. I far more enjoyed the recent production at Encores.

Wendy Caster said...

@Alaine--I look forward to hearing what you think. @Anonymous--what other shows did you see?

Anonymous said...

I won't see the NYC production having read your comments.

When doesn't Bernadette Peters give a whiny, teary, baby-voiced performance? Every song gets the same Craigslist "belt and swing" treatment.

Mind you I was once thrown out of a vehicle at 54th and 8th for stating my opinion.

I saw all the original Sondheim shows in NYC, my folks got twofers at their offices. The 2001 production of Follies here was great, despite the bad reviews. Treat Williams, wow, what a voice.

Wendy Caster said...

I also loved the Roundabout Follies! I was completely emotionally involved all 6? 8? times I saw it. I'd see it today if I could!

Rain clouds do indeed have silver linings, though. My sister and I figured that the mediocrity of the recent Night Music and this Follies saved us a ton of money, because if they had been good, we'd go again and again and again.

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