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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review

Follies is back after a 41-year hiatus and thumbing its nose at those who said it wouldn't measure up! We sigh and writhe with delight over this production's arrival in Los Angeles. The Ahmanson is draped in black which, Artistic Director Michael Ritchie explains, created an atmosphere for this darkly witchie story about two couples at a reunion of Follies Girls who find a melancholy aura in the memories.

And nobody does this kind of musical better than Stephen Sondheim. His legendary music is as fresh as tomorrow. "The Road You Didn't Take", "Too Many Mornings" and "Losing My Mind" rank with the best ballads anywhere. "Could I Leave You", Phyllis's great divorce question, rings with furious irony as does the "God Why Don't You Love Me Blues" snidely captioned "Buddy's Folly."

Derek McLane set is dark as yesterday's lost love. It's complemented by Natasha Katz's lighting design. The late James Goldman still deserves ringing credit for the more bitter than sweet book with its blazing regret and Eric Schaeffer's direction catches the tone with an ironically light hand.

This is a memory play with all the glory of Follies past, as the chorus girls who, at first mere shadowy figures on the stage, emerge in opulent splendor in Gregg Barnes' splendiferous costumes. The girls, who are very young and naive in their earlier incarnations, age angularly. Phyllis, still svelte in a sequined sheath, has kept her figure at the expense of having children to please Ben, the man who can't love. Sally, now plump in a full-skirted dress, hangs hopelessly onto her two grown sons. Neither career nor love have brought fulfillment. Ben, a boulevardier, initially succumbs to Sally who has always loved him but ultimately non-fulfillment is a habit.

Phyllis is bitter, Sally plump, sad but hopeful. Buddy, the song and dance man who married Sally, has always made her laugh but is not a romantic figure. Ben, cool, tortured and distant, is fated to remain that way. It all adds up to a triumph of character, as well as a great musical.

The Ahmanson is lucky in getting the original Broadway cast. The only new member, Victoria Clark, is a splendid addition. She takes over the role of Sally, played by Bernadette Peters on Broadway and before that in DC (Bernadette Peters on Broadway, and before that in DC). She plays with an eagerness and pathos that make her a real addition.

The other actors are as fine as they were on Broadway. Jan Maxwell is Phyllis, restlessly prowling the stage in her slinky sheath. We see in Young Phyllis the earnest devoted girl who's determined to be a good wife to Ben who, as we discover, is incapable of returning it. The older Phyllis finally accepts it but it tortures her. As Buddy, Danny Burstein has the jovial eagerness of a perennial ingenue. Ron Raines as Ben is dignified, aloof and we, along with Sally, wonder why she was "the road he didn't take." Raines' voice is breathtaking. Elaine Page as Carlotta does full justice to the survivor's anthem "I'm Still Here." Jayne Houdyshell as Hattie who sings the famous "Broadway Baby" is a trip.

With never a false step from its huge cast, this Follies shows its perennial flair.

For Elyse Sommer's review of the Broadway production wich includes pictures and a song list go here.

Title: Follies
Book: James Goldman
Music and Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Eric Schaeffer
Cast: Jan Maxwell (Phyllis), Victoria Clark (Sally), Danny Burstein (Buddy), Ron Raines (Ben), Elaine Paige (Carlotta), Hattie (Jayne Houdyshell), Young Sally (Lora Lee Gayer), Solange (Mary Beth Peil), Stella (Terri White),
Where: Ahmanson Theatre, 601 W. Temple St., Los Angeles CA 90012.
When: May 3-June 9, 2012.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on May 9.
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