Theater Masks

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Follies on a special day

First, the business: my contract came in the mail today! I signed it, and am as of now an officially "agented" writer. (Well, maybe not until it gets mailed back, but still). WOOHOO!!!!

We went to see Follies on Broadway today to celebrate. I chose this show because, as any of you who knows me at all knows, I'm a total Sondhead. Is that a term? Sondheim freak? How about super-duper-uber Sondheim fan? Anyway, Follies has been at the top of my list of "want to see" shows for a very long time as it's one of the few of Sondheim's I hadn't seen yet. Also on the list: A Little Night Music - didn't get to the revival for several reasons, Pacific Overtures, Sunday (though I've seen the video, of course), and Passion (again, seen the video). Yes, I've even seen a production of Do I Hear a Waltz, for any keeping track.

On to the Follies: it was well worth the wait. The show was stunning - the music (which I knew already would be) was exquisite and the performances were universally strong. I was surprised to find Jan Maxwell (Phyllis) and Danny Burstein (Buddy) to be even better than Bernadette Peters (Sally).

Much has been said about the show, of course, but I want to comment on two elements. First, I'd heard much about "Who's That Woman" in the past. Peter Filichia, a theater critic I've corresponded with for many years, has said often it is his favorite number in any show (forgive me, Peter, if I'm not 100% accurate on that - but he's definitely sung its praises many times). Musically, the song is good, but doesn't reach the heights of some of the other numbers in the show like "Losing My Mind" "Could I Leave You" or my personal favorite, "Too Many Mornings". The staging and choreography are what make the number work, though. As aging chorus girls relive their glory days by performing an old "mirror number" the ghosts of their former selves drift into the dance and become the mirror images of each woman. It's gorgeous, but what makes it so brilliant are the details. The older women aren't perfect - the dance isn't QUITE right, so you get to see what it was, and what their memory and older bodies can do now. It's difficult to put into words, but it truly was one of the most joyful and moving numbers I think I've ever seen on stage. I agree wholeheartedly with Peter's assessment.

The other moment I want to touch on comes right before the "Loveland" sequence. As our four main characters' marriages are breaking apart they begin arguing. The argument is then augmented as ghosts of their past selves come on and we see the couples when they were starting and an early conflict that directly led to the fight in the present. As the older couples fight, their words are echoed by their past selves, or reflected upon by old words. They interact across 30 years by living the whole thing over again, making the same mistakes their younger selves did, but with the twist of thirty more years on them. The writing here was mind-blowing. Seriously, how do you write EIGHT characters in a scene, four of whom are ghostly presences of the other four, have the dialogue resonate perfectly across the decades, and still have the whole thing make complete sense for the audience? Usually I can say "I could do that" with regards to writing -- maybe not exactly like it was done, but I could certainly tackle the problem in a creative way. I honestly don't know that I could have handled this - the control and perfection of the scene was fascinating. I don't know how much of this was due to the staging (which was brilliant) over the writing, but either way, this is now my second favorite non-musical sequence in any show (the first, for the record, is the debate scene in 1776).

If you can get to the Marquis before the show closes, go. Go see Follies and revel in it. The only Sondheim show I can truly say is better is Sweeney Todd - and that's saying something.

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