OMG are you sick of me writing about this stupid show yet? Well, there’s the door, kiddo. No, that’s the closet. Nope, that’s the way to the robot collection. Oh gosh. Nevermind. Just stick around and deal with it for one or two more posts.
So! The Great Follies Smack-Down of 2011, where I judge both the Broadway production, which I saw on Saturday, and Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production, which I saw on Wednesday, by ranking key, scientifically chosen criteria. Before we begin, let’s be clear about a few things: this is intended for fun and folly ONLY. In addition, both productions are completely different beasts. One was designed for a 1,600 seat proscenium theatre with a $7.5 million budget and already had months of performances under its belt by the time I saw it, and the other for a 500 seat thrust stage for a fraction of a fraction of that price tag and had only been playing for a week (can you guess which is which?) But seats and dollar signs do not indicate quality, because big flash can be easily substituted for intimate intensity.
So, without further ado, let’s bring on the Weismann girls!
Best “Losing My Mind”
Shakes: Susan Moniz delivered what some might consider a standard take on the tune, but did so exquisitely. She simply sang the song, looked great, and had a few tears in her eyes at the appropriate moments.
Bulldozers: It was my first time seeing Bernadette Peters Live! On Stage! so I was enraptured. But, her performance of this tune was so over-the-top (at one point she literally squatted down and hit the stage with her hand, I swear to God) it was distracting.
Most spiteful “Could I Leave You?”
Shakes: The compact Caroline O’Conner looks like she could kick some ass — she might even have a knife hidden on her being somewhere. But she’s also funny: I haven’t laughed as much during a performance of this number. The combination of humor and danger was intriguing.
Bulldozers: Jan Maxwell’s super aggressive approach really worked for me. Near the end, she was pretty much at “Lions Roar” volume. But perhaps it was too much for some?
Winner: Bulldozers, by a smidge
Best “Loveland” transition sequence
Shakes: A stunning fake proscenium stage came down from the flys while Sally, Ben, Phyllis and Buddy ran off the stage.
Bulldozers: As the conflict heated up, a black curtain came down with the cast arguing in front. Then, the curtain lifted to reveal a blinding red and pink set with the follies ghosts in exquisitely detailed white costumes. Sally, Ben, Phyllis and Buddy turned around, looked at the tableau and began walking amongst it with a WTF? look.
Best “Lucie and Jessie”
Shakes: O’Connor can dance, baby. Out of all the showstoppers in this showstopper-stuffed show, this one got the biggest hand by far. And I loved how it started with a strip routine, as if to pay homage to the “other” Phyllis song, “Ah! But Underneath.”
Bulldozers: Maxwell certainly gave her best, and I appreciated her Kay Thompson-esque vibe, but she never looked fully in control of the moment. It was a low point for me.
Winner: Shakes, by a landslide
Best “Mirror Number”
Shakes: With a small-scale production on a thrust stage, it’s hard to create a lavish tap dance routine. So, choreographer Alex Sanchez embraced the venue’s limitations and made the number a tap-off between the women and their ghostly counterparts. And it worked quite well.
Bulldozers: While I wasn’t bowled over by the uninspired, if energetic, choreography, Terri White nearly stole the show with her big voice and even bigger attitude. And it was fun seeing Bernadette sell this number in her tap shoes.
Most triumphant “I’m Still Here”
Shakes: Hollis Resnik’s glamorous Carlotta radiated confidence. She didn’t need to prove herself — she just had to walk in a room and opportunity (meaning: men) would flock to her. Thus, her “I’m Still Here” was more a wry reflection on her life. But then, at the 3/4 mark, she shifted into triumph, as if to say, “hell yeah, I got through all that, and guess what? I’m still here!”
Broadway: West-end diva Elaine Paige’s Carlotta delivered her lines like Mae West and walked like she was 3 feet taller than her petite 5 foot frame. Her Carlotta was on the defense, and her “I’m Still Here” was tinged with anger, frustration and a point to prove. But also triumph. And she ended it quite powerfully. And! She remembered all the words the night I saw it, so that’s a bonus.
Winner: A draw!
Most evocative setting
Shakes: Shakes had the biggest challenge turning its Shakespeare Globe Theatre-inspired space into a distressed Weismann theatre. Kevin Depinet manages to include a proscenium stage frame in the back while placing the main party virtually in your lap.
Bulldozers: Things start off promising, with the interior of the Marquis wrapped in gray drop cloths. But the main setting was perhaps too literal for me: a gutted, tri-tiered stage. Yes, and? With such a vast budget, I expected more.
And the victor is …
It’s a draw! Both productions, as varied as they are, have their weaknesses and strengths, which, in the end, makes both productions equally well-worth seeing. Did you see both productions? What did you think? Comment away!