A triumph in all departments, Follieshas hit L.A. with the overwhelming force of a tsunami. First seen at the JFK Center in Washington and then on Broadway, the show has checked into the Ahmanson for a month-long run that will surely draw full houses.
Follies debuted on Broadway in 1971. The current revival is headed by Elaine Paige in the Carlotta Campion role, which means she gets to sing the mortality anthem, "I'm Still Here" (with lusty relish). Backing up Paige are 16 highly skilled featured artists and 20 chorus members, all of whom are attired in Gregg Barnes' fabulous costumes. When you add atmospheric stage decor (by Derek McLane), snappy choreography (Warren Carlyle) and a 28-piece orchestra (James Moore) to the mix, you end up with a rare and remarkable dish of musical theater.
Follies tells the story of a farewell party thrown by an old Ziegfeldish producer, Dimitri Weismann (David Sabin), on the stage of his once-famous theater before it falls victim to urban renewal. Dimitri invites not just the surviving entertainers and showgirls of his glory days to the party but their spouses.
In Goldman's clever book, we see these showbiz folk at two different times in their lives: in "Loveland," when they were young and full of zest and hope for the future; then in the present, trying to cope with failed marriages and love affairs. Thus past and present co-exist, with the two principal couples, Phyllis and Ben (Ron Raines) and Sally (Victoria Clark) and Buddy (Danny Burstein), not only experiencing "the folly of love" (Sondheim's description) in their glory days but trying to recapture it in old age.
Follies spends much of its time investigating dysfunctional and somewhat dreary relationships; thus it's a relief when Act Two focuses on Loveland and brighter, jauntier songs like "You"re Gonna Love Tomorrow" and "Live, Laugh and Love."
Follies works on multiple levels; the complexity poses a challenge for any director. Fortunately, Eric Schaeffer has helmed previous editions of the show (at the Signature Theater); that, plus his familiarity with the material (and with Sondheim's music), has enabled him to put together a captivating production this time around.