Review by Danny Gaisin
Sondheim’s 1971 adaptation of Goldman’s reflective book about the theatre era between the World Wars is a musical mixed bag … some memorable songs and a couple of turkeys. The plot deals with the imminent demolition of an old N.Y. playhouse and the impresario’s notion that holding a pre-wreaker’s ball reunion ball might be fun. The Ziegfeld-ish character, herein called Weisman (pun probably intended) invites his past stars and chorus liners to the semi-destroyed building and having each guest presented with a commemorative sash demarking their individual year at the top. (My favorite – 1936!)
As with any reunion; old ghosts re-emerge to haunt the celebrants. Old animosities, jealousies, petty sins and especially relationships resurface. Unresolved issues become vanguard. In FOLLIES, it is two couples; the males, close friends in the day, the ladies- competitors for stardom and enamoured of the same man.
Theatre Unlimited, celebrating its 25th year selected Gloria Buchert to direct and she endeavors to give as much visual perception to the plot as the dialogue. Antiquate-costumed ghosts glide by; the previous incarnations of the major character -interactions are bathed in blue light; and on occasion, both contemporary and avatar personas are on stage together. Thus, following the plot and interface are easily discernible. The production team of Michael Buchert & Adam Dolson has utilized extensive intricate costuming; lighting; and incredible staging/crew teamwork to make FOLLIES as professional as local theatre gets.
The opening scene where we’re introduced to the invitees has such an aura of authenticity that this scribe kept visualizing the introductory & finale scenes of ‘A League of their own’, about the same-period ladies being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. A joyful reunion that then deteriorates into ancient rancor and enmity – Very human; very identifiable. We meet Claire Prendergast as Sally Durant who is married to Buddy Plummer who is a successful salesman. Clive Lacey’s interpretation of a self-doubting and somewhat insecure personality will reverberate with most middle-aged males. We can’t help but empathizes with his uncertainties. Prendergast bestows her characterization of dissatisfaction & hidden passion for her old flame into something tangible and a more than credible portrayal. Her old nemesis is Maria DePalma, and Rob Gorican plays Ben Stone; DePalma’s husband, a successful writer. Stone happens to be the guy that Sally has always loved & wanted. DePalma’s ‘Phyllis’ is a powerhouse actor and gives a highly rational description of a woman who knows the score. Gorican has the vocal range and technique that makes him well-suited for the challenges of his role. He has the knack of pairing song & drama with his timing, expression and stance.
Follies benefits from dynamic assistance from some support roles. Sharon Nimmo belts out the ‘Broadway Baby’ number that’s one of the show’s major hits. The tap dance sequence reiterating an old routine is hoofed by Nancy Reed & Brian Wray and earned some opening night whistles. For this scribe, it was Linda Spence’s (#1936)”I’m Still Here’ that stops the show. One of her lyrics refers to her being “sincere”…she certainly is.
The ten-piece orchestra under Jan Stapleton never overpowers; the costumes are extremely elaborate, abundant and creative. The set may be rudimentary but more is not needed and neither are prop distractions necessary. The 37 cast members [and crew of dozens] are all that is needed to make FOLLIES work well; tell its message; and even overcome some of the Sondheim lemons such as ‘The Right Girl”. The almost-finale LOVELAND is the Vaudeville sequenced bit that brought back memories for your writer of my hookey-playing escapes to Montreal’s Gaiety Revue to see chorus cuties, Norma Shearer, Bubbles, and Lily St. Cyr!
[Torontonians – yours was the Victory Burlesque]
FOLLIES will be at the Meadowvale Theatre until Feb. 3rd.