“Follies” @ Actors Theatre Company

I’m so glad I learned that Follies was playing before it closed (Thanks, Steven!). It was such a wonderful surprise, all around.

Yes, it was community theatre. Yes, there was some occasional clunky acting and a few ill-fitting wigs and costumes. Yes, they didn’t have a million-dollar budget and Boris Aronson‘s sets. However, where it counted, this Follies delivered — particularly in some key performances aided by strong direction.

This was very much a work of passion for director Marlon Barden. In the director’s notes, she recalled how she had seen the original production of Follies at the Winter Garden five times, and what a major impact it had on her as an artist. She later played Sally in a professional production in Highland Park over a decade ago. Now, as director, she had the opportunity to bring Follies back — a show that hasn’t been seen in Chicago for over 10 years (from what I understand). Barden has directed what I imagine to be a faithful recreation of what she saw on Broadway — from all I’ve read and from the…videos…I’ve seen.

It’s a hard show to do — or to do right, I should say. Follies demands a large cast, a decent sized band to do justice to this brassy, jazzy and nearly operatic score, a strong quartet of leading actors, and a handfull of Broadway babies to deliver the star performances in the “cameo” roles. Actors Theatre Company has assembled an age-appropriate cast, with standout performances in all the big roles.

I particularly loved Mary Alexander’s Sally. She delivered probably one of the best sung “Losing My Minds” I’ve heard. Deep, smokey and passionate. (And she’s also a VP of JP Morgan to “pay the bills!”) As Carlotta, Barbara Rosin was a spitfire, really kicking into high gear during “I’m Still Here.” Loved her red, sequined mini dress. Marian Kaderbek resembled a disheveled Patti LuPone, belting out “Who’s that Woman” with gusto, and comically losing steam as the number barreled on. Dennis M. Barden and Rick Rapp as Ben and Buddy where ideally cast, with Rapp doing a wonderful “The Right Girl” and “Buddy’s Blues.” However, while Marcia Kazurinsky hit all the right notes as Phyllis, she seemed a bit too wooden, always striking the same pose when delivering a line.

The 19 piece band, led by Music Director Jack Cameron, really provided the finishing touch. While there were a handful of clams (mostly from a wonky trumpet), on the whole, they were great, deftly easing into tricky passages, like the one before “In Buddy’s Eyes” and the transitions in “Waiting for the Girls Upstairs,” while delivering showbiz verve in “I’m Still Here.” I do wish the full “Who’s That Woman” number was included, as well as the “Bolero,” but I appreciate how well they executed what they did.

Scenic Designer Brandon Wardell kept things simple: black set, scaffolding, and a few rolling stairs. For the Loveland sequence, a billowed curtain. A semi-transparent screen was used to show the ghostly images of the former follies girls to good effect, and the final projection gave me goosebumps (the iconic Gloria Swanson in the rubble picture — see my blog header above.)

My only major complaint? It’s closed after only a handfull of performances! And many of my fellow Sondheim fan friends didn’t even know Follies was even playing in Chicago! Advertising their shows isn’t a priority, I gather. However, it’s not like they really needed to — the house was packed. And after each song, it was like a rock concert. Follies and Sondheim fans are a rabid bunch.

I’ll be back to Actors Theatre Company, fo sho.

7 thoughts on ““Follies” @ Actors Theatre Company

  1. I’m so glad you saw a top-notch production! First impressions stick (at least for me) — sounds like they did “Follies” proud.

  2. I saw a production of “Follies” in Boston and it was great – just a brilliant examination of what happens as we age, how we look back on our youthful dreams with nostalgia and regret. So glad you enjoyed it!

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