Liz Smith: Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies” Still Glitters Darkly After All These Years

And more from our Gossip Girl: fashion advice for confused men

“HATS OFF! Here they come — those beautiful girls…” sings Michael Hayes in his old-fashioned tenor. This is the opening of the musical “Follies” being presented at the Marquis Theater. I don’t really know how many times I’ve seen this great James Godman-Stephen Sondheim musical, but I could go back annually just for the incredible score, which celebrates the girls of the Weismann Follies having their last reunion.

I hope I’ll be forgiven for saying that, for me, this revival doesn’t come up to the original, which had Harold Prince and Michael Bennett masterminding the most dynamic and glamorous musical I’ve ever seen. But this revival is still bracing, unusual and often great fun, and I appreciate the hell out of getting to enjoy it all again. (I do have a slight quibble. Sitting third row center, the delightful reporter David Patrick Columbia and I thought most of the performers were not “projecting” and we had a hard time distinguishing the lyrics even though everybody seemed to be “miked.” But then, we knew all the lyrics by heart anyway. Maybe it’s the fault of acoustics in the Marquis Theater.

In the first act, where everyone gathers in Weismann’s old theater (which is about to be torn down,) ghostly images from the past glide about in dramatic costumes, making it seem like “Dracula” — but never mind. These sprites stay with us even through the intermission, a touch I liked. Nothing really takes off until Terri White does her incredible “Who’s That Woman?” number and the old showgirls dance with their younger selves. Brilliant.

There are a few things I think are underdone. In “Broadway Baby,” why is the beloved and popular Jayne Houdyshell so under-dressed when she’d have been the first Follies girl to try to look good and stay in the game? And other moments are overdone, like the half charming but dangerous burst-of-anger turn by Danny Burstein as Buddy. No one needs to be choreographed as that angry!

And there were moments I just adored — Jan Maxwell doing the Alexis Smith-original Tony-winning role singing “Could I Leave You?” This unsung actress is compelling onstage whatever she does. Both male leads — Ron Raines and the aforementioned Danny Burstein are strong, easy to understand — and these guys can really act. British icon Elaine Paige shows a sardonic, cynical self in “I’m Still Here,” and this distinguished actress managed her American accent to perfection! She looks and sounds great — though I can’t understand why director Eric Schaeffer kept her sitting upstage so long before letting her come down and go boffo!

The surprise of the night for me was the charm of “One More Kiss,” done in operetta style by Rosalind Elias singing with her younger self, the beautiful Leah Horowitz. The audience went wild for Mr. Sondheim’s little history lesson of the origins of musical comedy, harking back to old Vienna.

And then there’s Broadway’s genius ingénue and now mature, sexy and gifted leading lady, Bernadette Peters. She presents here a woman not only asking “Am I Losing My Mind?” but one already gone. She is indelibly lovable, but maybe it’s the way Goldman wrote the part; it’s just too neurotic and downbeat. The way this character comes off, one wants to send Cher up onstage to slap her and say, “Snap out of it!” (But I will love this grand girl always for what she brought, brings, and will bring to musical theater.)

So, go see “Follies.” It’s chock full of nostalgia with four bitter human stories surrounded by beautiful young people, all in love with show biz. The music and lyrics alone are worth the price of the admission.

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Hey, guys! Want to look as if you are a current fashion maven? Have your jacket re-made too small for you and be sure that in all your suits, you are straining the jacket buttons, leaving a gap just enough at the waist to show a portion of your shirt and belt buckle. A Tommy Hilfiger look, for instance.

Also, slim down your pant legs and don’t wear socks. (Ugh! Sticky bare feet sticking to a leather insole, but all the males working at the Ralph Lauren stores have this look!)

Personally, I like to see men wearing socks over their bare shins and ankles and I also like to see slim, tailored suits that don’t look as if one is crammed into them, like maybe the suits made by that great Texan, Tom Ford.

8 comments so far.

  1. avatar Barbara says:

    Liz, couldn’t agree more on the Hilfiger and Lauren fashion. Everyone, it seems, is wearing shoes barefoot. I’d hate to smell their shoe closet. I wish someone would tell me the secret for them not getting blisters from all the rubbing — or have they created such callouses on their feet they don’t get them any more (ugh, another bad thought.)

  2. avatar Richard Bassett says:

    Yes, socks. Maybe you can get away with it when playing sports with sneakers, but for casual and dress shoes….socks. Tighter socks makes my legs feel a bit more stable and since the hair level on mens ankles are so varied, one can look like a 10 year old boy or an ape. Just keep all of that to yourself. It isn’t very pretty

  3. avatar John Dillon says:

    Ah Follies! I’d seen the original musical 6 times. IMO this was/is the most perfect musical ever written. The music and lyrics are incomparable. I read one reviewer who could not understand why ‘One Last Kiss’ received such an ovation. Well, duh, it’s ’cause it’s one of the most heartbreaking songs ever written, especially when the younger/older women sing as one. The notes and final dip always brings tears to my eyes. I know that I am planning to cross the US so that I can catch this version. I just wish they would capture it on video.

  4. avatar Mr. Wow says:

    OH, “Follies!”…

    “Here’s a little story that’ll make you weep, about two unhappy dames/Let us call them Lucy X and Jessie Y, which are not their real names!”

    What a show.  And what an incredible moment for all us movie-mavens, when Alexis Smith knocked them out.  Just as Angela had, a few years before, in “Mame.” (We will  say, only, during that era,  that it was… lots of fun to have Ruby Keeler, klumping around in “No, No, Nanette.”  Unlike Angela or Alexis, she revealed no hidden talents.)

    “Could I live through the pain on  a terrace in Spain, would it pass?  It would pass.  Could I bury my rage with a boy half your age in the grass?  Bet your ass!”

  5. avatar Jay Gentile says:

    I’m not a fan of Sondheim’s sour, dour musicals. I want peppy songs and lots of jokes. I don’t want sad old ladies, demon barbers, and death. It’s as if the man who wrote West Side Story and Gypsy has had a case of acid indigestion for the past two decades. Next to Frank Wildhorn, there’s no one whose musicals have less appeal to this theater goer.

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Jay…

      “Gypsy” was a fairly dark musical.  Maybe nobody’s throat got cut (literally) but there were some dour doings on the road from vaudeville to burlesque.  And Mama Rose?  A woman who most surely needed medication.

      But I have to say, I’ve never cared for “Sweeney Todd.”

  6. avatar Rho says:

    I hope to see it.

  7. avatar Evie Marlin says:

    It has been ‘no socks’ with casual attire in Europe for a long time. However, not wanting to sound like a snob, this does not apply to all classes.