Original Broadway poster
Follies is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by James Goldman. The story concerns a reunion in a crumbling Broadway theatre, scheduled for demolition, of the past performers of the "Weismann's Follies", a musical revue (based on the Ziegfeld Follies), that played in that theatre between the world wars. It focuses on two couples, Buddy and Sally Durant Plummer and Benjamin and Phyllis Rogers Stone, who are attending the reunion. Sally and Phyllis were showgirls in the Follies. Both couples are deeply unhappy with their marriages. Buddy, a traveling salesman, is having an affair with a girl on the road; Sally is still as much in love with Ben as she was years ago; and Ben is so self-absorbed that Phyllis feels emotionally abandoned. Several of the former showgirls perform their old numbers, sometimes accompanied by the ghosts of their former selves.
The Broadway production opened on April 4, 1971, directed by Harold Prince and Michael Bennett, and with choreography by Bennett. The musical was nominated for eleven Tony Awards and won seven. The original production, which ultimately lost its entire investment, ran for 522 performances. The piece has enjoyed a number of major revivals, and several of its songs have become standards, including "Broadway Baby", "I'm Still Here", "Too Many Mornings", "Could I Leave You?", and "Losing My Mind".
- 1 Background
- 2 Plot
- 3 Songs
- 4 Analysis
- 5 Versions
- 6 Productions
- 6.1 1971 Original Broadway
- 6.2 1972 Los Angeles
- 6.3 1985 Wythenshawe and Lincoln Center
- 6.4 1987 West End
- 6.5 U.S. regional productions
- 6.6 1996 and 1998 concerts
- 6.7 2001 Broadway revival
- 6.8 2002 London revival
- 6.9 2002 Los Angeles
- 6.10 2007 New York City Center Encores!
- 6.11 2011 Kennedy Center and Broadway
- 6.12 2012 Los Angeles
- 6.13 2013 Toulon Opera House (France)
- 7 Critical response
- 8 Recordings
- 9 Awards and nominations
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
After the failure of Do I Hear A Waltz? (1965), for which he had written the lyrics to Richard Rodgers's music, Sondheim decided that he would henceforth work only on projects where he could write both the music and lyrics himself. He asked author and playwright James Goldman to join him as bookwriter for a new musical. Inspired by a New York Times article about a gathering of former showgirls from the Ziegfeld Follies, they decided upon a story about ex-showgirls.
Originally titled The Girls Upstairs, the musical was originally to be produced by David Merrick and Leland Hayward in late 1967, but the plans ultimately fell through, and Stuart Ostrow became the producer, with Joseph Hardy to direct. These plans also did not work out, and finally Harold Prince, who had worked previously with Sondheim, became the producer and director. He had agreed to work on The Girls Upstairs if Sondheim would agree to work on Company; Michael Bennett, the young choreographer of Company, was also brought onto the project. It was Prince who changed the title to Follies; he was "intrigued by the psychology of a reunion of old chorus dancers and loved the play on the word 'follies'".
On the soon-to-be demolished stage of the Weismann Theatre, a reunion is being held to honor the Weismann's "Follies" shows past, and the beautiful chorus girls who performed there every year between the two world wars. The once resplendent theatre is now little but planks and scaffolding (Prologue/Overture). As the ghosts of the young showgirls slowly drift through the theatre, a majordomo enters with his entourage of waiters and waitresses. They pass through the spectral showgirls without seeing them.
Sally Durant Plummer, "blond, petite, sweet-faced" and at 49 "still remarkably like the girl she was thirty years ago", a former Weismann girl is the first guest to arrive; her ghostly youthful counterpart moves towards her. Phyllis Rogers Stone, a stylish and elegant woman, also arrives with her husband Ben, a renowned philanthropist and politician. As their younger counterparts approach them, Phyllis comments to Ben about their past. He feigns disinterest; there is an underlying tension in their relationship. As more guests arrive, Sally’s husband, Buddy, enters. He is a salesman, in his early 50s, appealing and lively, whose smiles cover inner disappointment.
Finally, Weismann enters to greet his guests. Roscoe, the old master of ceremonies, introduces the former showgirls ("Beautiful Girls"). Former Weismann performers at the reunion include Max and Stella Deems, who lost their radio jobs and became store owners in Miami; Solange La Fitte, a coquette, who is vibrant and flirtatious even at 66; Hattie Walker, who has outlived five younger husbands; Vincent and Vanessa, former dancers who now own an Arthur Murray franchise; Heidi Schiller, for whom Franz Lehár once wrote a waltz (or was it Oscar Straus? Facts never interest her; what matters is the song!); and Carlotta Campion, a film star who has embraced life and benefited from every experience.
As the guests reminisce, the stories of Ben, Phyllis, Buddy and Sally unfold. Phyllis and Sally were roommates while in the Follies, and Ben and Buddy were best friends at school in New York. When Sally sees Ben, her former lover, she greets him self-consciously ("Don't Look at Me"). Buddy and Phyllis join their spouses and the foursome reminisces about the old days of their courtship and the theatre, their memories vividly coming to life in the apparitions of their young counterparts ("Waiting For The Girls Upstairs"). Each of the four is shaken at the realization of how life has changed them. Elsewhere, Willy Wheeler (portly, in his sixties) cartwheels for a photographer. Emily and Theodore Whitman, ex-vaudevillians in their seventies, perform an old routine ("The Rain on the Roof"). Solange proves she is still fashionable at what she claims is 66 ("Ah, Paris!"), and Hattie Walker performs her old showstopping number ("Broadway Baby").
Buddy warns Phyllis that Sally is still in love with Ben, and she is shaken by how the past threatens to repeat itself. Sally is awed by Ben’s apparently glamorous life, but Ben wonders if he made the right choices and considers how things might have been ("The Road You Didn't Take"). Sally tells Ben how her days have been spent with Buddy, trying to convince him (and herself) ("In Buddy’s Eyes"). But it is clear that Sally is still in love with Ben – even though their affair ended badly when Ben decided to marry Phyllis. She shakes loose from the memory and begins to dance with Ben, who is touched by the memory of the Sally he once cast aside.
Phyllis interrupts this tender moment and has a biting encounter with Sally. Before she has a chance to really let loose, they are both called on to participate in another performance – Stella Deems and the ex-chorines line up to perform an old number ("Who's That Woman?"), as they are mirrored by their younger selves. Afterward, Phyllis and Ben angrily discuss their lives and relationship, which has become numb and emotionless. Sally is bitter and has never been happy with Buddy, although he has always adored her. She accuses him of having affairs while he is on the road, and he admits he has a steady girlfriend, Margie, in another town, but always returns home. Carlotta amuses a throng of admirers with a tale of how her dramatic solo was cut from the Follies because the audience found it humorous, transforming it as she sings it into a toast to her own hard-won survival ("I'm Still Here").
Ben confides to Sally that his life is empty. She yearns for him to hold her, but young Sally slips between them and the three move together ("Too Many Mornings"). Ben, caught in the passion of memories, kisses Sally as Buddy watches from the shadows. Sally thinks this is a sign that the two will finally get married, and Ben is about to protest until Sally interrupts him with a kiss and runs off to gather her things, thinking that the two will leave together. Buddy leaves the shadows furious, and fantasizes about the girl he should have married, Margie, who loves him and makes him feel like "a somebody", but bitterly concludes he does not love her back ("The Right Girl"). He tells Sally that he's done, but she is lost in a fantasy world, and tells him that Ben has asked her to marry him. Buddy tells her she must be either crazy or drunk, but he's already supported Sally through rehab clinics and mental hospitals and cannot take any more. Ben drunkenly propositions Carlotta, with whom he once had a fling, but she has a young lover and coolly turns him down. Heidi Schiller, joined by her younger counterpart, performs "One More Kiss", her aged voice a stark contrast to the sparkling coloratura of her younger self. Phyllis kisses a waiter and confesses to him that she had always wanted a son. She then tells Ben that their marriage can't continue the way it has been. Ben replies by saying that he wants a divorce, and Phyllis assumes the request is due to his love for Sally. Ben denies this, but still wants Phyllis out. Angry and hurt, Phyllis considers whether to grant his request ("Could I Leave You?").
Phyllis begins wondering at her younger self, that worked so hard to become the socialite that Ben needed. Ben, yells at his younger self for not appreciating all the work that Phyllis did. Both Buddys enter to confront the Bens about how they stole Sally. Sally and her younger self enter and Ben firmly tells Sally that he never loved her. All the voices begin speaking and yelling at each other. Suddenly, at the peak of madness and confusion, the couples are engulfed by their follies, which transform the rundown theatre into a fantastical "Loveland", an extravaganza even more grand and opulent than the gaudiest Weismann confection: "the place where lovers are always young and beautiful, and everyone lives only for love". Sally, Phyllis, Ben and Buddy show their "real and emotional lives" in "a sort of group nervous breakdown."
What follows is a series of musical numbers performed by the principal characters, each exploring their biggest desires. The two younger couples sing in counterpoint of their hopes for the future ("You're Gonna Love Tomorrow/Love Will See Us Through"). Buddy then appears, dressed in "plaid baggy pants, garish jacket and a shiny derby hat", and performs a high-energy vaudeville routine depicting how he is caught between his love for Sally and Margie's love for him. ("The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me Blues"). Sally appears next, dressed as a torch singer, singing of her passion for Ben from the past- and her obsession with him now ("Losing My Mind"). In a jazzy dance number, accompanied by a squadron of chorus boys, Phyllis reflects on the two sides of her personality, one naive and passionate and the other jaded and sophisticated and her desire to combine them ("The Story of Lucy and Jessie"). Resplendent in top hat and tails, Ben begins to offer his devil-may-care philosophy ("Live, Laugh, Love"), but stumbles and anxiously calls to the conductor for the lyrics, as he frantically tries to keep going. Ben becomes frenzied, while the dancing ensemble continues as if nothing was wrong. Amidst a deafening discord, Ben screams at all the figures from his past and collapses as he cries out for Phyllis.
"Loveland" has dissolved back into the reality of the crumbling and half-demolished theatre; dawn is approaching. Ben admits to Phyllis his admiration for her, and Phyllis shushes him and helps Ben regain his dignity before they leave. After exiting, Buddy escorts the emotionally devastated Sally back to their hotel with the promise to work things out later. Their ghostly younger selves appear, watching them go. The younger Ben and Buddy softly call to their "girls upstairs", and the Follies end.
Source: "Follies" Score
- "Prologue" – Orchestra
- "Overture" – Orchestra
- "Beautiful Girls" – Roscoe and Company
- "Don't Look at Me" – Sally and Ben
- "Waiting for the Girls Upstairs" – Ben, Sally, Phyllis and Buddy, Young Ben, Young Sally, Young Phyllis and Young Buddy
- "Montage" ("Rain on the Roof"/"Ah, Paris!"/"Broadway Baby") – Emily, Theodore, Solange, and Hattie
- "The Road You Didn't Take" – Ben
- "Bolero d'Amour" – Danced by Vincent and Vanessa ≠≠
- "In Buddy's Eyes" – Sally
- "Who's That Woman?" – Stella and Company
- "I'm Still Here" – Carlotta
- "Too Many Mornings" – Ben and Sally
- "The Right Girl" – Buddy
- "One More Kiss" – Heidi and Young Heidi
- "Could I Leave You?" – Phyllis
- "Loveland" – Company
- "You're Gonna Love Tomorrow" / "Love Will See Us Through" – Young Ben, Young Sally, Young Phyllis and Young Buddy
- "The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me Blues" – Buddy, "Margie", "Sally"
- "Losing My Mind" – Sally
- "The Story of Lucy and Jessie" ≠ – Phyllis and Company
- "Live, Laugh, Love" – Ben and Company
- "Chaos" – Ben and Company
- "Finale" – Young Buddy and Young Ben
≠ Some productions substitute "Ah, But Underneath"
≠≠ Omitted from some productions
Note: this is the original song list from the original Broadway production in 1971. Variations are discussed in Versions
Songs cut prior to the Broadway premiere include: "All Things Bright and Beautiful" (used in the prologue), "Can That Boy Foxtrot!", "Who Could Be Blue?", "Little White House", "So Many People", "It Wasn't Meant to Happen", "Pleasant Little Kingdom", and "Uptown Downtown". The musical numbers "Ah, But Underneath" (replacing "The Story of Lucy and Jessie"), "Country House", "Make the Most of Your Music" (replacing "Live, Laugh, Love"), "Social Dancing" and a new version of "Loveland" have been incorporated into various productions.
Hal Prince said: "Follies examines obsessive behavior, neurosis and self-indulgence more microscopically than anything I know of." Bernadette Peters quoted Sondheim on the character of "Sally": "He said early on that [Sally] is off balance, to put it mildly. He thinks she’s very neurotic, and she is very neurotic, so he said to me, 'Congratulations. She’s crazy.'" Martin Gottfried wrote: "The concept behind 'Follies' is theater nostalgia, representing the rose-colored glasses through which we face the fact of age ... the show is conceived in ghostliness. At its very start, ghosts of Follies showgirls stalk the stage, mythic giants in winged, feathered, black and white opulence. Similarly, ghosts of Twenties shows slip through the evening as the characters try desperately to regain their youth through re-creations of their performances and inane theater sentiments of their past."
Joanne Gordon, author and Chair and Artistic Director, Theatre, at California State University, Long Beach ]) wrote "Follies is in part an affectionate look at the American musical theater between the two World Wars and provides Sondheim with an opportunity to use the traditional conventions of the genre to reveal the hollowness and falsity of his characters' dreams and illusions. The emotional high generated by the reunion of the Follies girls ultimately gives way to anger, disappointment, and a weary resignation to reality." "Follies contains two scores: the Follies pastiche numbers and the book numbers." Some of the Follies numbers imitate the style of particular composers of the early 20th century: Losing My Mind is in the style of a George Gershwin ballad "The Man I Love". Sondheim noted that the song "The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me Blues" is "another generic pastiche: vaudeville music for chases and low comics, but with a patter lyric...I tried to give it the sardonic knowingness of Lorenz Hart or Frank Loesser."
"Loveland", the final musical sequence, (that "consumed the last half-hour of the original" production) is akin to a 1920s Ziegfeld Follies sequence, with Sally, Phyllis, Ben and Buddy performing "like comics and torch singers from a Broadway of yore." "Loveland" features a string of vaudeville-style numbers, reflecting the leading characters' emotional problems, before returning to the theatre for the end of the reunion party. The four characters are "whisked into a dream show in which each acts out his or her own principal 'folly'".
Goldman continued to revise the book of the musical right up to his death, which occurred shortly before the 1998 Paper Mill Playhouse production. Sondheim, too, has added and removed songs that he judged to be problematic in various productions. Ted Chapin explains: "Today, Follies is rarely performed twice in exactly the same version. James Goldman's widow made the observation that the show has morphed throughout its entire life...The London production had new songs and dialogue. The Paper Mill Playhouse production used some elements from London but stayed close to the original. The 2001 Roundabout Broadway revival, the first major production following Goldman's death in 1998, was again a combination of previous versions."
Major changes were made for the original production in London, which attempted to establish a lighter tone and favored a happier ending than the original Broadway production. According to Joanne Gordon, "When 'Follies' opened in London...it had an entirely different, and significantly more optimistic, tone. Goldman's revised book offered some small improvements over the original."
According to Sondheim, the producer Cameron Mackintosh asked for changes for the 1987 London production. "I was reluctantly happy to comply, my only serious balk being at his request that I cut "The Road You Didn't Take" ... I saw no reason not to try new things, knowing we could always revert to the original (which we eventually did). The net result was four new songs...For reasons which I've forgotten, I rewrote "Loveland" for the London production. There were only four showgirls in this version, and each one carried a shepherd's crook with a letter of the alphabet on it."
The musical was written in one act, and the original director, Prince, did not want an intermission, while the co-director, Bennett, wanted two acts. It was originally performed in one act. The 1987 West End, 2005 Barrington Stage Company, the 2001 Broadway revival and Kennedy Center 2011 productions were performed in two acts. However, the August 23, 2011 Broadway preview performance was performed without an intermission. By opening the 2011 Broadway revival was performed with the intermission, in two acts.
1971 Original Broadway
Follies premiered on Broadway on April 4, 1971 at the Winter Garden Theatre. It was directed by Harold Prince and Michael Bennett, with choreography by Bennett, scenic design by Boris Aronson, costumes by Florence Klotz, and lighting by Tharon Musser. It starred Alexis Smith (Phyllis), John McMartin (Ben), Dorothy Collins (Sally), Gene Nelson (Buddy), along with several veterans of the Broadway and vaudeville stage. The supporting role of Carlotta was created by Yvonne De Carlo, and usually is given to a well-known veteran performer who can belt out a song. Other notable performers in the original productions were: Fifi D'Orsay as Solange LaFitte, Justine Johnston as Heidi Schiller, Mary McCarty as Stella Deems, Arnold Moss as Dimitri Weismann, Ethel Shutta as Hattie Walker, and Marcie Stringer and Charles Welch as Emily and Theodore Whitman.
The show closed on July 1, 1972 after 522 performances and 12 previews. According to Variety Magazine, the production was a "total financial failure, with a cumulative loss of $792,000." Prince planned to present the musical on the West Coast and then on a national tour. However, the show did not do well in its Los Angeles engagement and plans for a tour ended.
Frank Rich, for many years the chief drama critic for The New York Times, had first garnered attention, while an undergraduate at Harvard University, with a lengthy essay for the Harvard Crimson about the show, which he had seen during its pre-Broadway run in Boston. He predicted that the show eventually would achieve recognition as a Broadway classic. Rich later wrote that audiences at the original production were baffled and restless.
For commercial reasons, the cast album was cut from two LPs to one early in production. Most songs were therefore heavily abridged and several were left entirely unrecorded. According to Craig Zadan, "It's generally felt that ... Prince made a mistake by giving the recording rights of Follies to Capitol Records, which in order to squeeze the unusually long score onto one disc, mutilated the songs by condensing some and omitting others." Chapin confirms this: "Alas ... final word came from Capitol that they would not go for two records.... [Dick Jones] now had to propose cuts throughout the score in consultation with Steve." "One More Kiss" was omitted from the final release but was restored for CD release. Chapin relates that "there was one song that Dick Jones [producer of the cast album] didn't want to include on the album but which Steve Sondheim most definitely did. The song was "One More Kiss", and the compromise was that if there was time, it would be recorded, even if Jones couldn't promise it would end up on the album. (It did get recorded but didn't make its way onto the album until the CD reissue years later.)"
1972 Los Angeles
The musical was produced at The Muny, St. Louis, Missouri in July 1972 and then transferred to the Shubert Theatre, Century City, California, running from July 22, 1972 through October 1, 1972. It was directed by Prince and starred Dorothy Collins (Sally; replaced by Janet Blair), Alexis Smith (Phyllis), John McMartin (Ben; replaced by Edward Winter), Gene Nelson (Buddy), and Yvonne De Carlo (Carlotta) reprising their original roles. The production was the premiere attraction at the newly constructed 1,800-seat theatre, which, coincidentally, was itself razed thirty years later (in 2002, in order to build a new office building), thus mirroring the Follies plot line upon which the musical is based.
1985 Wythenshawe and Lincoln Center
A full production ran at the Forum Theatre, Wythenshawe, England, from 30 April 1985, directed by Howard Lloyd-Lewis, design by Chris Kinman, costumes by Charles Cusick-Smith, lighting by Tim Wratten, musical direction by Simon Lowe, and choreographed by Paul Kerryson. The cast included Mary Millar (Sally Durant Plummer), Liz Izen (Young Sally), Meg Johnson (Stella Deems), Les Want (Max Deems), Betty Benfield (Heidi Schiller), Joseph Powell (Roscoe), Chili Bouchier (Hattie Walker), Shirley Greenwood (Emily Whitman), Bryan Burdon (Theodore Whitman), Monica Dell (Solange LaFitte), Jeannie Harris (Carlotta Campion), Josephine Blake (Phyllis Rogers Stone), Kevin Colson (Ben), Debbie Snook (Young Phyllis), Stephen Hale (Young Ben), Bill Bradley (Buddy Plummer), Paul Burton (Young Buddy), David Scase (Dimitri Weismann), Lorraine Croft (Young Stella), and Meryl Richardson (Young Heidi).
A staged concert at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, was performed on September 6 and 7, 1985. The concert starred Barbara Cook (Sally), George Hearn (Ben), Mandy Patinkin (Buddy), and Lee Remick (Phyllis), and featured Carol Burnett (Carlotta), Betty Comden (Emily), Adolph Green (Theodore), Liliane Montevecchi (Solange LaFitte), Elaine Stritch (Hattie Walker), Phyllis Newman (Stella Deems), Jim Walton (Young Buddy), Howard McGillin (Young Ben), Liz Callaway (Young Sally), Daisy Prince (Young Phyllis), Andre Gregory (Dmitri), Arthur Rubin (Roscoe), and Licia Albanese (Heidi Schiller). Rich, in his review, noted that "As performed at Avery Fisher Hall, the score emerged as an original whole, in which the 'modern' music and mock vintage tunes constantly comment on each other, much as the script's action unfolds simultaneously in 1971 (the year of the reunion) and 1941 (the year the Follies disbanded)."
Among the reasons the concert was staged was to provide an opportunity to record the entire score. The resulting album was more complete than the original cast album. However, director Herbert Ross took some liberties in adapting the book and score for the concert format—dance music was changed, songs were given false endings, new dialogue was spoken, reprises were added, and Patinkin was allowed to sing "The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me Blues" as a solo instead of a trio with two chorus girls. Portions of the concert were seen by audiences worldwide in the televised documentary about the making of the concert, also released on videotape and DVD, of 'Follies' in Concert.
1987 West End
The musical played in the West End at the Shaftesbury Theatre on July 21, 1987 and closed on February 4, 1989 after 644 performances. The producer was Cameron Mackintosh, direction was by Mike Ockrent, with choreography by Bob Avian and design by Maria Bjornson. The cast featured Diana Rigg (Phyllis), Daniel Massey (Ben), Julia McKenzie (Sally), David Healy (Buddy), Lynda Baron, Leonard Sachs, Maria Charles, Pearl Carr & Teddy Johnson. Dolores Gray was praised as Carlotta, continuing to perform after breaking her ankle, although in a reduced version of the part. During the run, Eartha Kitt replaced Gray, sparking somewhat of a comeback (she went on to perform her own one woman show at The Shaftesbury Theatre to sell-out houses for three weeks from 18 March 1989 after "Follies" closed). Other cast replacements included Millicent Martin as Phyllis. Julia McKenzie returned to the production for the final four performances.
The book "was extensively reworked by James Goldman, with Sondheim's cooperation and also given an intermission." The producer Cameron Mackintosh did not like "that there was no change in the characters from beginning to end.... In the London production ... the characters come to understand each other." Sondheim "did not think the London script was as good as the original." However, he thought that it was "wonderful" that, at the end of the first act, "the principal characters recognized their younger selves and were able to acknowledge them throughout the last thirty minutes of the piece." Sondheim wrote four new songs: "Country House" (replacing "The Road You Didn't Take"), "Loveland" (replacing the song of the same title), "Ah, But Underneath" (replacing "The Story of Lucy and Jessie", for the non-dancer Diana Rigg), and "Make the Most of Your Music" (replacing "Live, Laugh, Love").
Critics who had seen the production in New York (such as Frank Rich) found it substantially more "upbeat" and lacking in the atmosphere it had originally possessed. According to the Associated Press (AP) reviewer, "A revised version of the Broadway hit "Follies" received a standing ovation from its opening-night audience and raves from British critics, who said the show was worth a 16-year wait." The AP quoted Michael Convey of The Financial Times, who wrote: "'Follies' is a great deal more than a camp love-in for old burlesque buffs and Sondheim aficionados." The New York Times critic wrote: "The initial critics' reviews ranged from unqualified raves to some doubts whether the reworked book of James Goldman is up to the inventiveness of Sondheim's songs. 'A truly fantastic evening,' The Financial Times concluded, while The London Daily News said, 'The musical is inspired,' and The Times described the evening as 'a wonderful idea for a show which has failed to grow into a story.'" He further commented: "In part, the show is a tribute to musical stage history, in which the 57-year-old Mr. Sondheim is steeped, for he first learned song writing at the knee of Oscar Hammerstein II and became the acknowledged master songwriter who bridged past musical stage romance into the modern musical era of irony and neurosis. Follies is a blend of both, and the new production is rounded out with production numbers celebrating love's simple hope for young lovers, its extravagant fantasies for Ziegfeld aficionados, and its fresh lesson for the graying principals."
This production was also recorded on two CDs and was the first full recording.
U.S. regional productions
Michigan Opera Theatre (MOT) was the first major American opera company to present Follies as part of their main stage repertoire, running from October 21, 1988 through November 6. The MOT production starred Nancy Dussault (Sally), John-Charles Kelly (Buddy), Juliet Prowse (Phyllis) and Ron Raines (Ben), Edie Adams (Carlotta), Thelma Lee (Hattie), and Dennis Grimaldi (Vincent).
A production also ran from March to April 1995 at the Theatre Under the Stars, Houston, Texas and in April to May 1995 at the 5th Avenue Theatre, Seattle with Constance Towers (Phyllis), Judy Kaye (Sally), Edie Adams, Denise Darcel, Virginia Mayo and Karen Morrow (Carlotta). The 1998 Paper Mill Playhouse production (Millburn, New Jersey) was directed by Robert Johanson with choreography by Jerry Mitchell and starred Donna McKechnie (Sally), Dee Hoty (Phyllis), Laurence Guittard (Ben), Tony Roberts (Buddy), Kaye Ballard (Hattie ), Eddie Bracken (Weismann), and Ann Miller (Carlotta). Phyllis Newman and Liliane Montevecchi reprised the roles they played in the Lincoln Center production. "Ah, But Underneath" was substituted for "The Story of Lucy and Jessie" in order to accommodate non-dancer Hoty. This production received a full-length recording on two CDs, including not only the entire score as originally written, but a lengthy appendix of songs cut from the original production in tryouts.
Julianne Boyd directed a fully staged version of Follies in 2005 by the Barrington Stage Company (Massachusetts) in June–July 2005. Principal cast included Kim Crosby (Sally), Leslie Denniston (Phyllis), Jeff McCarthy (Ben), Lara Teeter (Buddy), Joy Franz (Solange), Marni Nixon (Heidi), and Donna McKechnie (Carlotta). Stephen Sondheim attended one of the performances.
1996 and 1998 concerts
- Dublin concert
The Dublin Concert was held in May 1996 at the National Concert Hall. Directed by Michael Scott. The cast included Lorna Luft, Millicent Martin, Mary Millar, Dave Willetts, Trevor Jones Bryan Smyth, Alex Sharpe, Christine Scarry, Aidan Conway and Enda Markey.
- London concert
A concert was held at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London, on December 8, 1996, and broadcast on BBC Radio 2 on February 15, 1997. The cast starred Julia McKenzie (Sally), Donna McKechnie (Phyllis), Denis Quilley (Ben) and Ron Moody (Buddy). This show recreated the original Broadway score.
- Sydney concert
Follies was performed in concert at the Sydney Opera House with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in February 1998 as the highlight of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and had three performances. It followed a similar presentation at the 1995 Melbourne Festival of Arts. The show starred Toni Lamond (Sally), Jill Perryman, Judi Connelli, Terence Donovan, Ron Haddrick, Todd McKenney, and Leonie Page.
2001 Broadway revival
A Broadway revival opened at the Belasco Theatre on April 5, 2001 and closed on July 14, 2001 after 117 performances and 32 previews. This Roundabout Theatre limited engagement had been expected to close on September 30, 2001. Directed by Matthew Warchus with choreography by Kathleen Marshall, it starred Blythe Danner (Phyllis), Judith Ivey (Sally), Treat Williams (Buddy), Gregory Harrison (Ben), Marge Champion, Polly Bergen (Carlotta), Joan Roberts (the original Laurey from the original Broadway production of Oklahoma!; later replaced by Marni Nixon), Larry Raiken (Roscoe) and an assortment of famous names from the past. Former MGM and onetime Broadway star Betty Garrett, best-known to younger audiences for her television work, played Hattie. It was significantly stripped down (earlier productions had featured extravagant sets and costumes) and was not a success critically.
According to an article in The Hollywood Reporter, "almost every performance of the show played to a full house, more often than not to standing-room-only. Tickets always were tough to come by. The reason the final curtain came down Saturday was because, being a production by the Roundabout Theatre Company – a subscription-based 'not-for-profit' theater company – it was presented under special Equity terms, with its actors paid a minimal fee. To extend the show, it would have been necessary to negotiate new contracts with the entire company ... because of the Belasco's limited seating, it wasn't deemed financially feasible to do so."
Theatre writer and historian John Kenrick wrote, "the bad news is that this Follies is a dramatic and conceptual failure. The good news is that it also features some of the most exciting musical moments Broadway has seen in several seasons. Since you don't get those moments from the production, the book or the leads, that leaves the featured ensemble, and in Follies that amounts to a small army. ... Marge Champion and Donald Saddler are endearing as the old hoofers. ... I dare you not to fall in love with Betty Garrett's understated "Broadway Baby" – you just want to pick her up and hug her. Polly Bergen stops everything cold with "I’m Still Here," bringing a rare degree of introspection to a song that is too often a mere belt-fest.... [T]he emotional highpoint comes when Joan Roberts sings 'One More Kiss'."
2002 London revival
A production was mounted at London's Royal Festival Hall in a limited engagement. After previews from August 3, 2002, it opened officially on August 6, and closed on August 31, 2002. Paul Kerryson directed, and the cast starred David Durham as Ben, Kathryn Evans as Sally, Louise Gold as Phyllis, Julia Goss as Heidi and Henry Goodman as Buddy. Variety singer and performer Joan Savage sang "Broadway Baby". This production conducted by Julian Kelly featured the original Broadway score.
2002 Los Angeles
Follies was part of L.A.'s Reprise series, and it was housed at the Wadsworth Theatre, presented as a staged concert, running from June 15 to June 23, 2002. The production was directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman, set design by Ray Klausen, lighting design by Tom Ruzika, costumes by Randy Gardell, sound design by Philip G. Allen, choreography by Kay Cole, musical director Gerald Sternbach.
The production starred Bob Gunton (Ben), Warren Berlinger (Dimitri Weismann), Patty Duke (Phyllis), Vikki Carr (Sally), Harry Groener (Buddy), Carole Cook (Hattie), Carol Lawrence (Vanessa), Ken Page (Roscoe), Liz Torres (Stella), Amanda McBroom (Solange), Grover Dale (Vincent), Donna McKechnie (Carlotta), Carole Swarbrick (Christine), Stella Stevens (Dee Dee), Mary Jo Catlett (Emily), Justine Johnston (Heidi), Jean Louisa Kelly (Young Sally), Austin Miller (Young Buddy), Tia Riebling (Young Phyllis), Kevin Earley (Young Ben), Abby Feldman (Young Stella), Barbara Chiofalo (Young Heidi), Trevor Brackney (Young Vincent), Melissa Driscoll (Young Vanessa), Stephen Reed (Kevin),and Billy Barnes (Theodore). Hal Linden was originally going to play Ben, but left because he was cast in the Broadway revival of Cabaret as Herr Schultz. Tom Bosley was also originally cast as Dimitri Weismann.
2007 New York City Center Encores!
New York City Center's Encores! "Great American Musicals in Concert" series featured Follies as its 40th production for six performances in February 2007 in a sold out semi-staged concert. The cast starred Donna Murphy (Phyllis), Victoria Clark (Sally), Victor Garber (Ben) and Michael McGrath (Buddy). Christine Baranski played Carlotta, and Lucine Amara sang Heidi. The cast also included Anne Rogers, Jo Anne Worley and Philip Bosco. The director and choreographer was Casey Nicholaw. This production used the original text and the "Loveland" lyrics performed in the 1987 London production.
2011 Kennedy Center and Broadway
The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts production at the Eisenhower Theatre started previews on May 7, 2011, with an official opening on May 21, and closed on June 19, 2011. The cast starred Bernadette Peters as Sally, Jan Maxwell as Phyllis, Elaine Paige as Carlotta, Linda Lavin as Hattie, Ron Raines as Ben and Danny Burstein as Buddy. The production was directed by Eric Schaeffer, with choreography by Warren Carlyle, costumes by Gregg Barnes, set by Derek McLane and lighting by Natasha Katz. Also featured were Rosalind Elias as Heidi, Régine as Solange, Susan Watson as Emily, and Terri White as Stella. The budget was reported to be $7.3 million. The production played to 95% capacity.
Reviews were mixed, with Ben Brantley of The New York Times writing, "It wasn't until the second act that I fell in love all over again with Follies". Peter Marks of The Washington Post wrote that the revival "takes an audience halfway to paradise." He praised a "broodingly luminous Jan Maxwell" and Burstein's "hapless onetime stage-door Johnny", as well as "the show's final 20 minutes, when we ascend with the main characters into an ironic vaudeville dreamscape of assorted neuroses - the most intoxicating articulation of the musical's 'Loveland' sequence that I've ever seen." Variety gave a very favorable review to the "lavish and entirely satisfying production", saying that Schaeffer directs "in methodical fashion, building progressively to a crescendo exactly as Sondheim does with so many of his stirring melodies. Several show-stopping routines are provided by choreographer Warren Carlyle." Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal noted that "One of the signal achievements of this 'Follies' is that it succeeds in untangling each and every strand of the show's knotty plot... Mr. Schaeffer is clearly unafraid of the darkness of 'Follies', so much so that the first act is bitter enough to sting. Yet he and Warren Carlyle ... just as clearly revel in the richness of the knowing pastiche songs with which Mr. Sondheim evokes the popular music of the prerock era."
The production transferred to Broadway at the Marquis Theatre in a limited engagement starting previews on August 7, 2011, with the official opening on September 12, and closing on January 22, 2012 after 151 performances and 38 previews. The four principal performers reprised their roles, as well as Paige as Carlotta. Jayne Houdyshell as Hattie, Mary Beth Peil as Solange LaFitte, and Don Correia as Theodore joined the Broadway cast. A two-disc cast album of this production was recorded by PS Classics and was released on November 29, 2011.
Brantley reviewed the Broadway revival for The New York Times, writing: "Somewhere along the road from Washington to Broadway, the Kennedy Center production of 'Follies' picked up a pulse. ... I am happy to report that since then, Ms. Peters has connected with her inner frump, Mr. Raines has found the brittle skeleton within his solid flesh, and Ms. Maxwell and Mr. Burstein have only improved. Two new additions to the cast, Jayne Houdyshell and Mary Beth Peil, are terrific. This production has taken on the glint of crystalline sharpness." The production's run was extended, and its grosses exceeded expectations, but it did not recoup its investment.
The Broadway production won the Drama League Award, Distinguished Production of a Musical Revival for 2011-12 and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival of a Musical, Outstanding Actor in a Musical (Burstein) and Outstanding Costume Design (Barnes). Out of seven Tony Award nominations, including Best Revival of a Musical, it won only one, for Barnes' costumes.
2012 Los Angeles
The 2011 Broadway and Kennedy Center production transferred to the Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles, California, in a limited engagement, from May 3, 2012 through June 9. The majority of the Broadway cast reprised their roles, with the exception of Bernadette Peters, who had prior concert commitments and was replaced by Victoria Clark in the role of Sally, a role she has previously played in New York. Other new cast members included Carol Neblett as Heidi, Sammy Williams as Theodore and Obba Babatunde as Max.
2013 Toulon Opera House (France)
For its first production in France, Follies was presented at the Toulon Opera House in March, 2013. This English-language production, using the full original orchestration, was directed by Olivier Bénézech and conducted by David Charles Abell. The cast featured Charlotte Page (Sally), Liz Robertson (Phyllis), Graham Bickley (Ben), Jérôme Pradon (Buddy), Nicole Croisille (Carlotta), Julia Sutton (Hattie) and Fra Fee (Young Buddy)
In the foreword to "Everything Was Possible", Frank Rich wrote: "From the start, critics have been divided about Follies, passionately pro or con but rarely on the fence... Is it really a great musical, or merely the greatest of all cult musicals?" (Chapin, p. xi) Ted Chapin wrote, "Taken as a whole, the collection of reviews Follies received was as rangy as possible." (Chapin, p. 300) In his New York Times review of the original Broadway production, Clive Barnes wrote: "...it is stylish, innovative, it has some of the best lyrics I have ever encountered, and above all it is a serious attempt to deal with the musical form." Barnes also called the story shallow and Sondheim's words a joy "...even when his music sends shivers of indifference up your spine."
Walter Kerr wrote in The New York Times about the original production: "Follies is intermissionless and exhausting, an extravaganza that becomes so tedious... because its extravaganzas have nothing to do with its pebble of a plot." On the other hand, Martin Gottfried wrote: "'Follies is truly awesome and, if it is not consistently good, it is always great."
Time Magazine wrote about the original Broadway production: "At its worst moments, Follies is mannered and pretentious, overreaching for Significance. At its best moments—and there are many—it is the most imaginative and original new musical that Broadway has seen in years."
Frank Rich, in reviewing the 1985 concert in The New York Times, wrote: "Friday's performance made the case that this Broadway musical... can take its place among our musical theater's very finest achievements." Ben Brantley, reviewing the 1998 Paper Mill Playhouse production in The New York Times, concluded that it was a "...fine, heartfelt production, which confirms Follies as a landmark musical and a work of art..."
The Time Magazine reviewer wrote of the 2001 Broadway revival: "Even in its more modest incarnation, Follies has, no question, the best score on Broadway." He noted, though, that "I'm sorry the cast was reduced from 52 to 38, the orchestra from 26 players to 14...To appreciate the revival, you must buy into James Goldman's book, which is peddling a panoramically bleak take on marriage." Finally, he wrote:"But Follies never makes fun of the honorable musical tradition to which it belongs. The show and the score have a double vision: simultaneously squinting at the messes people make of their lives and wide-eyed at the lingering grace and lift of the music they want to hear. Sondheim's songs aren't parodies or deconstructions; they are evocations that recognize the power of a love song. In 1971 or 2001, Follies validates the legend that a Broadway show can be an event worth dressing up for."
Brantley, reviewing the 2007 Encores! concert for The New York Times, wrote: "I have never felt the splendid sadness of 'Follies' as acutely as I did watching the emotionally transparent concert production...At almost any moment, to look at the faces of any of the principal performers...is to be aware of people both bewitched and wounded by the contemplation of who they used to be. When they sing, in voices layered with ambivalence and anger and longing, it is clear that it is their past selves whom they are serenading."
There have been five recordings of Follies released: the original 1971 Broadway cast album; Follies in Concert, Avery Fisher Hall (1985); the original London production (1987); and the Paper Mill Playhouse (1998). The cast recording of the 2011 Broadway revival, by PS Classics, was officially released on November 29, 2011, and also was in pre-sale prior to the store release. PS Classics co-founder Tommy Krasker said: "We've never had the kind of reaction that we've had for 'Follies'. Not only has it already outsold every other album at our website, but the steady stream of emails from customers has been amazing." This recording includes "extended segments of the show's dialogue." The theatermania.com reviewer wrote that "The result is an album that, more so than any of the other existing recordings, allows listeners to re-experience the heartbreaking collision of past and present that's at the core of the piece." The recording of the 2011 revival was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Musical Theater Album category.
Awards and nominations
Original Broadway production
|1971||Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Choreography||Michael Bennett||Won|
|Outstanding Lyrics||Stephen Sondheim||Won|
|Outstanding Costume Design||Florence Klotz||Won|
|Outstanding Set Design||Boris Aronson||Won|
|Outstanding Performance||Alexis Smith||Won|
|Outstanding Director||Harold Prince and Michael Bennett||Won|
|New York Drama Critics' Circle||Best Musical||Won|
|1972||Tony Award||Best Musical||Nominated|
|Best Book of a Musical||James Goldman||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical||Alexis Smith||Won|
|Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical||Gene Nelson||Nominated|
|Best Original Score||Stephen Sondheim||Won|
|Best Direction of a Musical||Harold Prince and Michael Bennett||Won|
|Best Choreography||Michael Bennett||Won|
|Best Scenic Design||Boris Aronson||Won|
|Best Costume Design||Florence Klotz||Won|
|Best Lighting Design||Tharon Musser||Won|
Original London production
|1987||Laurence Olivier Award||Musical of the Year||Won|
|Actress of the Year in a Musical||Julia McKenzie||Nominated|
2001 Broadway revival
|2001||Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Revival of a Musical||Nominated|
|Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical||Polly Bergen||Nominated|
|Outstanding Orchestrations||Jonathan Tunick||Nominated|
|Tony Award||Best Revival of a Musical||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical||Blythe Danner||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical||Polly Bergen||Nominated|
|Best Costume Design||Theoni V. Aldredge||Nominated|
|Best Orchestrations||Jonathan Tunick||Nominated|
2011 Broadway revival
|2012||Tony Award||Best Revival of a Musical||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical||Danny Burstein||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical||Jan Maxwell||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical||Jayne Houdyshell||Nominated|
|Best Costume Design||Gregg Barnes||Won|
|Best Lighting Design||Natasha Katz||Nominated|
|Best Sound Design||Kai Harada||Nominated|
|Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Revival of a Musical||Won|
|Outstanding Actor in a Musical||Danny Burstein||Won|
|Outstanding Actress in a Musical||Jan Maxwell||Nominated|
|Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical||Elaine Paige||Nominated|
|Outstanding Director of a Musical||Eric Schaeffer||Nominated|
|Outstanding Choreography||Warren Carlyle||Nominated|
|Outstanding Set Design||Derek McLane||Nominated|
|Outstanding Costume Design||Gregg Barnes||Won|
|Outstanding Sound Design||Kai Harada||Nominated|
|Grammy Award||Best Musical Theater Album||Nominated|
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