Follies

Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Book by James Goldman

Directed by Marlon Barden

Music Direction by Jack Cameron

Choreography by Robin Lehtman

Follies
Follies

Produced by Actors Theatre Company

At the Kathleen Mullady Theatre at Loyola University Chicago

Stunning spectacle does Follies justice

Good Times and bad times
I’ve seen them all
But I’m Still Here
— Carlotta from the Follies anthem song.

I have never seen a show by Actors Theatre Company during their 13 year tenure on the North Shore.  I heard good things about their Sweeney Todd last year so I decided to take in their Follies at Loyola University this year. Since Follies is a major musical filled with a cast of 41 and it needs a full orchestra, I wasn’t expecting much–a concert version would do.   Boy, was I surprised with their Follies! It was a delight.

follies by sondheim

With a two-tiered set (by Matthew Kollar) with ample lighting (by Brandon Wardell) together with fabulous costume design (by Laura B. Kollar) with an 18 piece orchestra (music direction by Jack Cameron), Actors Theatre Company mounted a complete spectacle production of Stephen Sondheim’s tribute to classical Broadway musicals–Follies.

The cast of 41 included several mature veterans plus enough young cuties to show the reunited Weismann  Follie (think Zigfield Follies) 30 years after the Follies closed in 1941. Now in 1971, just before the wrecking ball demolishes their theatre, the girls from Weismann’s entire run (1918-1941) return for the ultimate closing party.  Follies is Sondheim’s most ‘Broadway” score finding him composing numbers in the Porter, Berlin, Arlen and Rodgers’ tradition.

James Goldman’s book is surprisingly unsentimental focusing rather on the dark side of personal relationship among the girls and their stage-door-Johnny husbands.  Sondheim’s lyrics are rich in backstage lure and irony. Act One features the opening spectacle “Beautiful Girls” featuring the young girls in headdress and cheek Follies gowns augmented by the old girls. This concept musical is a memory musical containing stylish flashbacks that seamlessly flow.

The main characters–2 couples with a tangled history featured expert work. Mary Alexander, as Sally Durant Plummer, anchors the show as the Follies girl who has a lifetime love for the man her friend married. Alexander nails her torch song “Losing My Mind” with ample emotional range. Dennis M. Barden, as Ben Stone, has the commanding presence and strong voice necessary to make Ben into a charismatic character. His “Live, Laugh, Love” tune was heart wrenching. Marcia Kazurinsky’s Phyllis Stone contained a biter edge that catapults her “Could I leave You?” into a final edict.

Rick Rapp, as Buddy Plummer, works hard to paint a portrait of a philandering and frustrated soul in love with Sally despite her rejection of him. His duet, “Too Many Mornings” with Alexander was powerful. Rapp’s comic side shows nicely in the Loveland vaudeville Second Act especially in “The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me-Blues” song.

Among the girls lamenting their days in show biz are Hattie (Jeaniane Benton) who sings “Broadway Baby” with deft aplomb. Carlotta (Barbara Rosin) delivers the anthem “I’m Still Here!” with zestful verve.

Follies is a most worthy production featuring a large no-Equity cast each dedicated to producing musical theatre art with an eye on craft and showmanship. They succeed nicely under the detailed direction of Marlon Barden and the effective choreography from Robin Lehtman. Actors Theatre Company’s passion for musical theatre propels this production to new heights. The succeeded in producing an entertaining and artful show. Using many volunteers, they are able to keep the ticket prices down to $20 (418 to seniors/students). You’ll never find a better bargain full-scale musical for that price!

Recommended

Tom Williams

At The Kathleen Mullady Theatre at Loyola University chicago, 1125 W. Loyola Ace., Chicago, IL, call 847-604-2100, www.actorstheatrecompany.com, tickets $20 ($18 for seniors/students), Saturday, June 20 at 8 pm, Sunday, June 21 at 2 pm, Friday, June 26 & Saturday, June 17 at 8 pm, running time is 2 hours, 25 minutes with intermission, through June 27, 2009