Friday, June 17, 2011

Follies at the Kennedy Center

Kari, Roxie and I took the train down to Washington to see Stephen Sondheim's Follies at the Kennedy Center over Memorial Day Weekend.  Tomorrow, I'm heading down again for the final weekend of the Kennedy Center run, this time with Noah.   Besides celebrating our seventh anniversary, which is even more special due to the fact we met because of Bernadette Peters, we are celebrating the news that the production is transferring to the Marquis Theatre on Broadway later this summer.  

When going in for this musical, I already knew I loved the music and the story, based on having seen the video of the 1985 New York Philharmonic concert and then 2007 Encores! production starring Donna Murphy and Victoria Clark.   The Encores! production was so fabulous, attendees and the theatre community of New York longed for it to transfer to Broadway.  There were even rumors that it would be produced by the New York City Opera.   In June 2009 interview, Victoria Clark stoked the fires of hope when she said, "I think the Kennedy Center is doing it next year."   Finally, it's here!  Unfortunately, it's not starring Donna Murphy and Victoria Clark, who are both busy starring in Broadway shows, but fortunately it is starring Bernadette Peters and Jan Maxwell. 

This musical has everything - old fashioned musical theatre with a huge cast, including showgirls, tap dancing, big song and dance numbers, ghosts, love, infidelity, angst, relief, and big stars on top of some of the most gorgeous music ever written for the theatre all swirling around the past and the future.    It's funny, sad, poignant and downright entertainment.  When I saw this production in May, I was thrilled beyond belief at what my eyes were seeing - thank you  by Greg Barnes who has designed eye popping costumes  - and what my ears were hearing - thank you Bernadette Peters, Ron Raines, Jan Maxwell, Elaine Paige, Rosalind Elias, Linda Lavin, and Terri White.

The book, written by James Goldman (hello, he also wrote The Lion in Winter), is on its own a terrific play.  It's the story of a reunion of Weissman girls, follies performers who have the chance to visit their old theatre and relive their former glory one last time.   It centers around former showgirls and roommates Phyllis (Jan Maxwell) and Sally (Bernadette Peters) and their respective spouses  Ben (Ron Raines) and Buddy (Danny Burstein).  A few of the other former showgirls get their moments to show what they've still got Carlotta (Elaine Paige), Heide (Rosalind Elias), Hattie (Linda Lavin), Stella (Terri White) and Emily (Susan Watson).  

The set is the stage, backstage and catwalk of a dilapidated theatre.  There is abandoned scenery and props at the back of the stage and the curtain is in tattered.  Most chilling is the presence of ghosts of follies girls dressed, by Greg Barnes, that seem to fade into the walls of the theatre.  They move ethereally amongst the reunion guests and on the catwalks, taking it in, never seeming to be noticed.   The ghosts of all of the ladies and Ben and Buddy relive those glorious days of performing along with them, all of their memories coming alive.  

From the first moments of the theatre lights going low to the curtain call, it was beyond thrilling and beautiful.  At times I found it hard to breath and I know I gasped and laughed with delight audibly.   My companions were often moved to tears.  I know there will be no difference in my and Noah's reactions tomorrow and especially at the final performance on Sunday in the sold-out houses.

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