There's no sating Broadway's appetite for Stephen Sondheim. In the last five years alone we've seen revivals of A Little Night Music, Sunday in the Park With George, Company, West Side Story and Gypsy. But the best of the bunch comes from Washington, D.C.—the Kennedy Center's darkly glittering production of Follies, a 40-year-old musical that, like the retired showgirls whose reunion kicks off the proceedings, is aging impeccably.
Director Eric Schaeffer deserves much of the credit for astute casting, from his leading quartet of Bernadette Peters, Ron Raines, Jan Maxwell and Danny Burstein, to featured players such as Elaine Paige, Jayne Houdyshell and Terri White. He then lets them loose on Sondheim's eloquent, emotionally haunting score and James Goldman's understated, evocative book, and the results are exhilarating.
As old friends, colleagues and rivals reunite at their former playhouse just before it's about to be demolished, the festivities quickly sour when Sally (Peters), now unhappily married to Buddy (Burstein), encounters former lover Ben (Raines). She's still pining for him, but his wife is the refined Phyllis (Maxwell), her former colleague and roommate. As they soldier through the evening, the theater becomes a house haunted by ghosts and yearnings, as characters are literally confronted by their former selves, who are full of hope and vigor.
Nowhere is this realized with more dazzle and heart than in "Who's That Woman?," a number in which some of the elder "girls," led by the vivacious White, invoke their younger spirits, who dance alongside them to re-create one of their old routines. In other supporting roles, Paige and Houdyshell bring spirited pathos to their famous numbers, "I'm Still Here" and "Broadway Baby."
Even though Peters and Raines are outshined by Burstein and Maxwell, whose bold performances both stop the show and make the heart skip a beat, the production coalesces to become an ideal combination of entertainment and invigorating drama. And it's a joy to behold.
By Diane Snyder
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Bernadette Peters, Jan Maxwell, Danny Burstein, Ron Raines, Elaine Paige, Christian Delcroix, Rosalind Elias, Colleen Fitzpatrick, Lora Lee Gayer, Michael Hayes, Jayne Houdyshell, Florence Lacey, Mary Beth Peil, David Sabin, Kirsten Scott, Frederick Strother, Nick Verina, Susan Watson, Terri White
New York, NY 10036