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First Place Winner of the 2010 New York City Theater Review Contest

 

Local Stars Shine in Follies

review by Steven Bergman

 

An average painter can create a vibrant work of art just by using the brightest colors in the spectrum.  That’s not to say that the Lyric Stage Company’s Spiro Veloudos is an “average” director, but the Elliot Norton and IRNE award-winning director is the first to admit that, “85% of directing a production is casting,” and Follies, the opening show of the Lyric’s 2008-2009 season, is perfect proof. 

 

Follies ran for 522 performances at the Winter Garden Theater (now home to Broadway’s Mamma Mia) in 1971.  It has had notable revivals since, including a star-studded concert performance in 1985 (featuring Barbara Cook, Mandy Patinkin and George Hearn).  A well-received concert of the show was produced in Boston by Overture Productions in 2003, and featured many of the principal performers in the Lyric’s current staging.  The show centers around two couples that are among a dozen alumni of “The Weismann Follies,” a fictional Ziegfeld-style review from the 1940’s. The performers have moved on with their lives, but are invited by their old impresario to come and celebrate the structure one last time before it's torn down.  The most notable technique used by writers Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman to convey this story is the incorporation of separate actors to portray the “youngs” of the leads: as they were when they were still employed by Weismann.  This device is one that usually prevents theaters from producing Follies, as the casting requires such a large number of actors, including eleven pairs who must look like the same character, one generation apart.

 

Veloudos, the Producing Artistic Director for the Lyric Stage Company, has gathered many of the first-tier musical theater performers from the Boston area to make this production shine.  Leigh Barrett, Kerry Dowling, Kathy St. George, Jacqui Parker, Bobbie Steinbach and Maryann Zschau have been the predominant musical women in the Boston area for much of the past fifteen years, and Veloudos has been able to bring all of them together to tackle this complex, yet curious, piece.

 

Ben Stone (New Yorker Larry Daggett) and Phyllis Rogers Stone (veteran Lyric star Zschau) have led the glamorous life since their days in the follies: Ben has had many high-profile positions in politics while Phyllis has strived to pick up the pieces of their difficult thirty-year childless marriage.  Buddy Plummer (Lyric favorite Peter A. Carey) and Sally Durant Plummer (Barrett) have ventured down the other fork in the road since leaving the follies: two kids, a job as an oil salesman for Buddy (with the out-of-town mistress), and the suburban lifestyle for Sally.  As the piece progresses we come to question whether each couple made the right choice of mates, as Sally still has strong feelings for Ben, which he may or may not reciprocate.

 

The show’s overall arc is flimsy, but the individual performances by the four leads, in addition to the glorious voices of the other 26 performers, make the show a must-see. Every one has their spotlight: from Zschau’s biting rendition of “Could I Leave You” to Parker’s spot-on bluesy rendition of the classic “Broadway Baby,” one won’t care what happens to the relationships of the two couples as we wait for the next one of these talented performers to serenade us.  Carey’s star shines bright whenever he’s on stage, whether he’s arguing with Sally about his unrequited love for her, or belting out numbers such as the show-stopper “The Right Girl.”  Veloudos flexes his directorial muscles in the beautiful staging that accompanies Barrett and Daggett’s well-sung, “Too Many Mornings,” and choreographer Ilyse Robbins shows her strength in the inspirational “Who’s That Girl (Mirror, Mirror)” featuring Dowling on lead vocals, in creating tap dancing steps that both generations of women can execute effectively.

 

It’s a pleasure to see Zschau back on stage at the Lyric after a three-year hiatus (she was last seen as Penelope Pennywise in Urinetown), and the production also gives Boston audiences the opportunity to see the talents of several up-and-coming performers in the presence of Aimee Doherty as Young Phyllis (soon to be seen as Sally Bowles in the New Repertory Theater’s production of Cabaret), Michelle DeLuca as Young Sally, and Jennifer Glick as Young Solange.

 

The four leads do their best to make the plot of the show interesting, but in the end, the book leads this reviewer to scratch his head and wonder why the piece was written.  The resolution of the two couples’ relationships may be considered a disappointment by some (even though the show has a huge legion of fans who adore it), but the individual performances more than provide any other reason to see Follies.  Due to the popularity of the cast, advance ticket sales have been very high, so go and buy seats while you can!

 
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