Tuesday, February 24, 2015

reviews - FOLLIES - Theater Works

Kelli James
(photo: Alastair Gamble)
for more information on this production that runs through March 15th click here.

"Follies is about a reunion. Among the many characters, the show centers principally on two unhappily married couples, Ben and Phyliss (Rusty Ferracane and Shari Watts) and Buddy and Sally (Scott Hyder and Beth Anne Johnson).  Even though the couples haven’t seen each other for years, they share history, and it’s their past that was so full of hope for the future that’s explored, and it comes with devastating results.  History and feelings repeat themselves, and not altogether for the best. From time to time there’s a moment in a Broadway show when show-stopping history is made. In Follies there isn’t just one of those great moments, there are several.  Carlotta’s "I’m Still Here," as performed by Kelli James, is the sensational crowd-pleaser you want it to be.  When Beth Ann Johnson performs "Losing My Mind," the song’s poignancy is like a stab to the heart.  Johnson also has the gift of a second show-stopper.  Her rendition of "In Buddy’s Eyes," a song that is pure Sondheim, is simply perfect.  Those three moments alone are enough to secure a standing ovation, but with a production such as this, crammed with theatrical treats throughout, Follies constantly surprises by continuing to deliver so much more.  Witness Shari Watts perform "Could I Leave You" and know that you’re watching something special. Follies is not necessarily for everyone.  Audience members with only a mild interest in theatre may find the subject matter of little interest – but make no mistake; this Theater Works version truly is something special; an unexpected treat that can’t fail to impress. Follies is a gift not only to the performers who here are given the opportunity to excel, which they do, but also to us, the audience, who are given the opportunity to watch them." -David Appleford, Valley Screen and Stage (click here to read the complete review)

"Led by a first rate cast of many Valley favorites, with clear direction by Phillip Fazio, the Theater Works production of Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman's Follies is receiving an almost perfect production. This is the first time the musical has been presented in Phoenix by a major theatre company and it is a welcome premiere of this classic Sondheim show. The musical is set in 1971 at a reunion of "Weismann Follies" showgirls in the crumbling New York theatre where their show closed 30 years before. The building is about to be torn down to make way for a parking lot. Our four main characters are two couples who find their marriages crumbling as well, and their lives are on the brink of being torn apart. They are all unhappy in their marriages, with Sally still in love with Ben, the husband of her follies roommate Phyllis. The other supporting characters were "Weissman girls" during the various years the Follies ran. The beautiful theatrical conceit used to represent the past is to have actors portray younger versions, or ghosts, of the follies girls as well as the two main couples. This is a show that makes you seriously think about "the road you didn't take." Follies is a musical that must be viewed and perceived differently depending on the age of the audience member, as anyone under 30 who hasn't had to face some of the questions the main characters ask wouldn't clearly understand the point of the story. The ghosts conjure up memories for the four leads, some which they clearly wish they could forget. The memories also make the couples question the choices they made, knowing that, had they made different decisions, their lives wouldn't have turned out the way they did. Director Phillip Fazio does an exceptional job of incorporating the ghosts seamlessly into the story, but without hitting you over the head with their significance. His use of scrims and shadows to show the younger versions of the characters, as well as having them move throughout the audience, is quite effective. While this is a magical and truly enjoyable evening, there are still some problems with the book, which is more a series of vignettes between the people at the party, and how some of the songs, as great as they are, seem a bit shoe-horned into the show. But this cast, under Fazio's assured direction, really delivers. It took over 40 years for Follies to make it to Phoenix and while the musical and this production may not be completely perfect, the production is well-cast, well-acted, and most likely one of the best productions and best casts that Phoenix will ever get for this show." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

"Follies is Sondheim’s masterpiece and it is one of the most difficult musicals to produce.  The extremely complex characters require superb singer/dancers to perform the telling emotional songs and execute the extravagant follies numbers that made these performers stars.  The show requires two looks, one is the stark reality of the performers failed lives, while the other must bring the elaborate follies routines to life.  The show’s disappointing design fails to bring either the crumbling reality of the once grand theater these performers called home to life and the showy Loveland numbers that feature the former follies stars in their superficial numbers are drably handled. Without a vibrantly beautiful production, the musical numbers fall flat and although the performers sing well, they fail to bring these complex characters to believable life.  Only the superb orchestra brings the rich score to melodic life.  Theater Works earns two stars out of five because the production misses so many of Follies essentials.  Theatergoers who never saw the original Follies will wonder why musical theater aficionados have made this show a classic." -Chris Curcio, KBAQ (click here to read the complete review)

"In any good rendition — which Theater Works' Arizona-premiere production, now onstage in Peoria, certainly is — one of the chief pleasures of Follies is the parade of secondary characters who take the spotlight to deliver bittersweet showstoppers, then drift back into the shadows. The biggie is "I'm Still Here," sung with thrilling passion and precision by former Broadway actress Kelli James Chase, but equally memorable are Patti Davis Suarez's overeager "Broadway Baby" and Heather Fallon's "Who's That Woman?"  The heart of the show, though, lies in the relationships — and the unfinished business — among two couples. The charmingly caddish Ben Stone (Rusty Ferracane) has become a success in business and politics, and although his wife, Phyllis (Shari Watts), longs for the idealistic romance of their youth, she makes do with the physical comforts (and the impunity) that affluence affords. Meanwhile, Sally (Beth Anne Johnson), who remains the naive girl-next-door after all these years, is still holding a candle for Ben that her husband, Buddy (Scott Hyder), can't outshine no matter how hard he (sometimes) tries.  New York-based director Phillip Fazio, who regularly returns home to lead such Valley productions as Theater Works' "Ragtime" and Mesa Encore Theatre's "August: Osage County," has proven he knows how to deliver an emotional wallop onstage, and "Follies" is no exception. Among the leads, Ferracane and Johnson are the standout singers, the latter with an ingenue-perfect soprano, the latter with a honey-smooth baritone, but what really matters is the push-and-pull as the characters measure the distance between what they once desired and what life has delivered, and this cast nails it.  If there is a weak spot in the production, it's the youthful ensemble players, who sing well but don't always have the dance chops to conjure full-on Broadway razzle-dazzle, especially in the big tap number. But they do rise to the occasion for the big finale of "Loveland," which gives a final say to each of the central characters. In a quintessential bit of Sondheim irony, this suite of songs surrounds the leads with the showbizziest dance and sparkle as they sing the most brutal truths, finally breaking through the theatrical illusions upon which they've built their lives. It's a wow moment and then some." -Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)

"Under the direction of Philip Fazio, Stephen Sondheim's Follies is receiving Arizona's first fully produced production at Theater Works. Mr. Fazio has pulled out all the stops to stage an extravaganza that in Broadway lore has been dubbed one of the great milestones of musical theater. Perhaps it was at the time, and so may Sondheim's 1971 opus be both an inspired and innovative homage to the world of the theater and a story of love's failed expectations. However, this 2015 version feels like a smorgasbord of sketches interrupted by the occasional gem. Conceptually, Follies has the ingredients and the theatrical devices that can make for a great show, but, live and on stage, the production feels cluttered with circus-like excesses that distract from the core story; movement that, at times, is not as sure-footed as it needs to be; and singing that is way too pitchy. The brilliance of this production lies rather in its outstanding technical aspects, in large part attributable to Mr. Fazio's artistic vision. There are simply times when less may be more and the old chestnuts may not stand the test of time. This won't mean that there are audiences that won't fall in love with the extravagance of this production." -Herbert Paine, Broadway World (click here to read the complete review)

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