Last night I was incredibly fortunate to go see a preview performance of the new production of Follies at the Marquis Theater and it was a night I won’t soon forget! To put it succinctly: this show blew my mind. And it wasn’t just the music or the singing or the dancing – every aspect of Follies is so well thought-out and so beautifully executed that I can’t wait to see it again so that I can take in all the things I missed!
The second we walked into the Marquis Theater my friend and I marveled at the beautiful set design. Follies takes place backstage at an old, abandoned theater in NYC and the stage is set as such, with rusty-looking banisters and steps, torn curtains, and rough wooden flooring. The entire set is sepia-toned with no bright colors, so when Bernadette Peters first walks on stage in her bright pink dress she shines like a beacon. (Side note: can we talk about how amazing Bernadette Peters is? She has been performing on Broadway for decades and still belts like almost nobody else. I would go to see her in anything)
Follies tells the story of the 30 year reunion of the Weissman Follies, a group of showgirls whose vaudeville style performances lit up the stage for many years before the show was shut down in 1941. You meet the cast of characters as they enter for the reunion and each actor enters so thoroughly in character so that you immediately know who they are. Jayne Houdyshell as Hattie (who later sings the well-known Broadway Baby) particularly stood out for me and made me laugh the moment she walked on stage.
The four main characters – Sally, Phyllis, Buddy and Ben are introduced and you immediately sense that they have a tense back story, but there’s little need for conjecture because one of the amazing things about Follies is that each character has a younger counterpart, that character thirty years before when the Weissman Follies were still going, who is often on stage at the same time as the older character, telling you the back story and interacting as the older characters engage in their own banter or look on at their younger selves wistfully, as though caught up in the memory. One of the most remarkable things about the production for me was how the young counterparts were portrayed – their dialogue sounded different, for one thing, with a kind of a tinny quality, but the most amazing feature was the lighting. When a young counterpart appeared on stage they never had the spotlight on them and always seemed sepia-toned; they almost blended in with the scenery in an amazing way. Even when they stood directly next to the older actors, somehow the light never hit them in quite the same way and it was always clear that they existed only in the characters’ memories. It is one of the most subtle and remarkable effects I have ever seen on a Broadway stage.
Throughout the show, beautiful and sad-looking showgirls stand on stage, making the story so much more poignant just through their silent presence. When one of the showgirls, played by Leah Horowitz, comes out in her elaborate white costume, a single black tear painted on her cheek, to join her elder counterpart, played by Rosalind Elias, to sing One More Kiss, it is one of the most haunting and gorgeous parts of the show.
While a sad story, Follies will also make you laugh. The first act number Who’s That Woman had the entire audience in stitches as the former Weissman Follies attempted to remember their choreography and made many mistakes while their younger counterparts danced flawlessly around them. It is truly a talented dancer who can make you believe that she hasn’t done a dance in 30 years and can’t quite remember how it goes.
The second act also features a long sequence where the set is replaced with an arch of brightly-colored flowers and you experience the lead actors performing in the style that would have been featured by the Weissman Follies in the 1930’s. Every one of these numbers was incredibly entertaining, but of course Bernadette Peters brought down the house with her rendition of Losing My Mind.
I can’t say it enough: GO SEE THIS SHOW. As if the fact that it has been rightly called “One of the greatest musicals ever written,” the production is flawless. You will be blown away by the singing and dancing, the lighting and the set design, and everything else. You don’t want to miss it. I know I’ll be going again ASAP!
Follies is currently in previews and opens officially in September. You can book tickets directly with New York Guest and they are also included in our Fall for Follies package. For more information, please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 212-302-4019.