Marriott Marquis Theatre, NYC - December 2011
Review by John Kenrick
When a luminous stage star is giving the performance of her career, it is something theatre lovers ought to celebrate. When it happens to be a star as lasting and gifted as Bernadette Peters in a show with songs by Stephen Sondheim, it should be the theatrical event of the year. When all this happens in a show as resolutely unfixable as Follies, the sense of jubilation is bound to be somewhat dampened. But while the material is as problematic as ever, from this point onwards there will be two classes of theatregoers. Those who have seen the current revival of Follies will understand what all the fuss has been about -- and those who miss it will have lost the chance to glory in a performance that I think it safe to say will become the stuff of legend.
From the moment it opened at Washington's Kennedy Center, this production has inspired massive fuss. Far more than any previous staging, this Follies manages to strike a balance between being a spectacle of specters and the intimate story of two endangered marriages. Sondheim's score invokes just about every musical style from Broadway's golden age -- from operetta to musical comedy, torch ballads to snazzy vaudeville turns -- with some incredibly ravishing results.
But the libretto leaves the four principle characters adrift in a sea of uncertainties, not necessarily any better off than they were at the start. As a consequence, audiences usually wind up feeling a bit cheated, denied any clear resolution -- like going through two and a half hours of foreplay only to find yourself no closer to orgasm than before the first caress.
There have been several attempts to revise this show over the years, but with the ending essentially untouched, the final result has always been somewhat disappointing. This time around, director Eric Schaeffer has tried to let the actors finish what librettist James Goldman (who's estate has firmly oppossed attempts to revise the script) left undefined.