I am not sure there is anything left to be said about Follies. I saw it early at the Kennedy Center and was more grateful for its existence than evincing its greatness. I was surprised it transferred to Broadway but hoped it might settle and find its legs if not its heart.
A few of the problems from those early days have been resolved. The choreography in Who’s That Woman is no longer a cluster tap, and the character of Solange is now intelligible (understated and humorously played by Mary Beth Peil). While I greatly enjoyed Linda Lavin at Kennedy Center, Jane Houdyshell is a surprising delight. [Total aside: As I dropped money into the BC/EFA bucket, I said to her, “You were wonderful.” She responded, “Thank you, so were you.”]
Some of the show has improved with age. Jan Maxwell’s interpretation of Could I Leave You? is stronger than ever. Who’s That Woman is the single most thrilling part of the show. One More Kiss rended my heart. And with Regine’s exit, the trio of Rain on the Roof, Ah Paris, and Broadway Baby comes together for a swelling conclusion befitting a big time Broadway show.
One of the most joyful surprises of the show was Bernadette Peters’ honest and touching and personal performance. Sadly, it was during the post-curtain speech urging donations to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids. Oh, that she could have brought a moment of that to the script. Unfortunately, her “performance” has gotten more self-conscious and self-important (her final exit was so protracted and masturbatory that it was embarrassing). Perhaps it was just the day, but she also had a more tenuous relationship with the music than she did with Buddy.
The show still has insufficient heart. The director and, by extension, many of the performers don’t seem to trust the songs. Elaine Paige shows no more interest in telling a story with I’m Still Here than she did in May. Danny Burstein’s The Right Girl is now more about a Tourette’s of jazz hands than an inner conflict. Ron Raines continues his one note performance that never quite finds the right key.
Instead of finding its way in the months since the Kennedy Center, the show seems to have lost considerable steam. It did, however, get me to thinking about its future. Will it close? Will it continue with a trickling of replacements? Or might they refresh the proceedings when Bernadette Peters goes with a new foursome?
I would love to see Reba McEntire step in as Sally, not just because she made stupid direction make sense in Annie Get Your Gun and offered a superior performance to Peters’ original, but also because I think she would be original and heartbreaking in the role. I have no idea how strong her soprano range is, but she would be certain to make the role and score her own. As Ben, I would be excited to see Tom Wopat, who was so achingly impressive in Catch Me If You Can. The replacement Phyllis is so obvious to me that I can’t believe she hasn’t performed the role on Broadway already. Bebe Neuwirth is all ice and stems and scared little girl gone hard. Finally, for the role of Buddy, my dream would be John Goodman. He has the chops, the comedic energy, and the everyman believability to play salesman, cheat, and unsettled man who settled.
I love this show so much. I long for it to be better. I saw the 2001 revival several times and, despite its deficiencies (particularly the female leads’ voices and the male leads’ "it"), it was haunting, beautiful, and devastating. And it had the perfection of Polly Bergen. I wish this version had half the heart and even a fraction of the vision. Like the characters in Follies, for now, I will just have to comfort (and torture) myself with the memories.