My friends at The Arlington Players invited me to check out Follies, their Spring production which opened last weekend. I was able to make it out for their opening weekend matinee and talk back.
I’ve never seen the musical by Stephen Sondheim and 1971 Tony award winner for Best Music & Lyrics; so I didn’t know what to expect. As the Orchestra (conducted by Leah Kocsis) started up with the overture, ghostly figures began to march in as if they were haunting memories of the half demolished theatre where the show takes place in. Was I about to watch a ghost story about a haunted theatre? That’d be a cool musical to do, something like Scooby Doo the Musical: Case of the Haunted Theatre- oh wait that’s already been done.
I quickly realized that the show is actually about a reunion of the, “Weismann’s Follies” a group of girls that performed musical revues back in the day (think Ziegfeld Follies.) The theatre they used to perform in is now abandoned and will soon become a parking lot. The girls and boys come back to say one last goodbye to the stage.
Much like your high school reunion, everybody is eager to come back and reminisce and relive the pleasant (and not so pleasant) memories of yonder. The show focuses on two couples: Sally (Jean Cantrell) and Buddy (Jack B. Stein); and Phyllis (Lynn Audrey Neal) and Ben (Jimmy Payne.)
The two couples are anything but happy, with Sally still harboring feelings towards Ben, who is still a player in his married life but is still seeking something more. Buddy, a traveling salesman, struggles to rekindle the love that was once there and Phyllis has grown to be a tough shell of a woman, seemingly devoid of any sense of human compassion.
It’s the kind of drama I’d love to see at my own high school reunion.
Follies explores how a group reunites and recollects, but it also take a glimpse at how human relationships mature, change, and evolve in such a setting.
The actors that really caught my eye was Jack B. Stein as Buddy Plummer and Jean Cantrell as Sally Durant Plummer. I particularly enjoyed seeing the Buddy’s vaudevillian number in the second act. Nothing says Vaudeville like wearing a cardboard car for a costume!
Often the supporting cast of actors don’t get enough credit, in Follies each of them had an opportunity to shine and shine they did. I particularly loved Solange La Fitte (Judy Lewis) in her “Ah, Paris!” number. I’m a sucker for accents.
Director & Choreographer Christopher Dykton put together some really lovely dance numbers, “Who’s That Woman?” is worth the price of admission alone. The coordination of one set of dancers is hard enough- but to coordinate a mirror image of their younger counterparts dancing exactly in step is cause for recognition. That number alone is worth the price of admission.
Dykton also played around with the idea of younger counterparts or ghosts in the show- as the main characters would remember or perform, those clone companion were often there reliving their tales, or in some cases haunting their past. It created lovely images that really added to production. While some would criticize the hit and miss pairings in casting, I applaud Dykton’s decision to create a diverse cadre of actors and concentrated more on the talent of the person.
The second act of the show is where the strongest elements of the production come together. The set magically transforms from a run-down stage to what it was in it’s heyday. The “Loveland” number is the classic folly number with dancers revealed behind a 400lb fan setpiece (kudos to Jared Davis & Bill Wisniewski for designing and building that contraption). What follows after that number is a series of folly numbers that explores each of the main characters’ inner emotions and struggles. Phyllis really shined in her folly, “The Story of Lucy And Jessie”, a number that had a very Chicago like feel to it.
The Arlington Players put together a solid show that features great dancing and singing- their elaborate sets, and large numbers are sure to entertain and take you back to a much simpler time, well at least what we remember was a simpler time.
Weekends April 17 — May 2, 2009
Thomas Jefferson Community Center