Review | Follies: rough-hewn charm

Artistry Theater, through May 6

Bradley Greenwald and Paul R. Coate in FOLLIES. Photo by Devon Cox.

Like the recent The Music Man, Follies (Artistry Theater, through May 6) exudes sturdy but rough-around-the edges sweetness and charm. Director Benjamin McGovern has done a crackerjack job casting Follies, (music and lyrics by the great Stephen Sondheim, book by the less great but still pretty darn good James Goldman), engaging music theater stalwarts like Paul R. Coate, Caitlin Burns (who performs an exquisite “In Buddy’s Eyes”), Melissa Hart as Hattie and, of course, the ever-brilliant Bradley Greenwald. The rest of cast may be non-professional but they are extremely talented, a clear tribute to McGovern’s skill.

Follies is set in the “Weismann Theater” in 1971. The performers of the Weismann Follies have gathered for a reunion in advance of the crusty theater going under ye olde wrecking ball. They sing paeans to the rough magic of their profession: “Broadway Baby,” “I’m Still Here,” et al. They embrace and drink. Follies is, movingly, about aging and the resilience of life. Few plays have tackled this subject so engagingly.

The second act, oddly, is mostly set on a beautifully designed central stairway, decorated with the kind of red fabric you might find in a New Orleans bordello. The performers perform with Vaudeville-influenced panache. It’s all a lot of fun, but it makes you wonder if Sondheim and Goldman somehow ran out of steam. Still, it gives the designers (Eli Sherlock, Mike Grogan, Ed Gleeman) and the choreographer (the uber-accomplished Myron Johnson) a chance to stretch their artistic wings, for which we can be grateful, Also, the songs in this section of Follies soar: “Buddy’s Blues,” “Losing My Mind,” “Love Will See Us Through.”

The great joy of any Sondheim play are the songs and in this regard Follies does not disappoint. In addition to the songs mentioned above, there is “Beautiful Girls,” “Waiting For The Girls Upstairs.” If you doubt that Stephen Sondheim is an American treasure, see this show.

The modestly priced Follies is produced in the perfectly sized and very comfortable Schneider Theater. The always accurate Internet tells me that Follies is selling out but there are still some seats remaining and maybe, if we’re lucky, they’ll extend.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. Please visit John’s informational website.


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