Self-pity and self-destruction never felt so good.
There is nothing quite like “Follies,” Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s massive and masterful 1971 musical about former showgirls and their husbands reuniting at the theater where they once starred in Ziegfeld-style revues on the eve of its destruction.
Ironically, the revival is playing in the Marquis Theatre, which was constructed on the site of five historic theaters torn down in the early 1980s.
Sondheim’s score, full of show-stopping production numbers and ballads, is truly an embarrassment of riches. But at the same time, “Follies” is a devastating portrait of two unhappy marriages and the crumbling of a once-glorious show-business universe.
As the curtain rises, it is apparent that the derelict theater is haunted by the eternally young ghosts of each showgirl, who will now be joined by their older selves.
Sally (Bernadette Peters), who married salesman Buddy (Danny Burstein) and became a depressed housewife, still harbors feelings for her ex-beau Ben (Ron Raines), who picked Sally’s gal pal Phyllis (Jan Maxwell) as his wife and has since become a rich, emotionally distant diplomat.
While the other guests drink, mingle and swap life stories, these four individuals are forced to confront the lies on which they have built their adult lives.
Unlike many other Sondheim musicals that have received scaled-down revivals recently, “Follies” cannot be downsized, as proven by Roundabout’s embarrassing 2001 production.
Eric Schaeffer’s lavish production, which features a 41-member cast and a 28-piece orchestra,originated at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. It has improved since then, with the staging cleanedup and the performances deepened emotionally. Jayne Houdyshell is a terrific addition to the cast, bringing eager spirit to the hoofer tribute “Broadway Baby.”
Peters fully captures Sally’s sweet and innocent center. Burstein violently throws himself into the role of Buddy, bringing the character’s pent-up anger to manic heights. Maxwell, who is better known as a dramatic actress, proves that she can handle a tough musical role. Raines credibly portrays Ben’s downward spiral from cocky self-denial into helplessness.
If you go:
“Follies” plays an open run at the Marquis Theatre. 1535 Broadway, 877-250-2929, folliesbroadway.com.