Also see Tracy's recent review of The Play About the Baby
The first thing one notices when they travel through Signature Theatre's corridor and enter the performance space is the dilapidation. Damaged theater seats and hanging beams appear to be the result of years of neglect. Rest assured that the good folks at Signature have not let the place go. The theater's decay can be attributed to their latest production, James Goldman and Stephen Sondheim's Follies.
One of the things Signature has always done best is to set the mood for a piece, and they have really hit the mark with this one. From the outstanding set by Lou Stancari and the dramatic lighting by Chris Lee down to the striking costumes by Robert Perdziola - all of the elements work. The skilled direction by Eric Schaeffer completes the picture.
Follies takes place at the old Weismann Theatre. Thirty years before, this was the home of opulent presentations that featured beautiful showgirls. However, those extravaganzas belong to another time and now the beloved theater is being torn down to make way for a parking lot. Before this sad event can take place, Dimitri Weismann gathers his "girls" together one last time. What follows is a story of love, disappointment and self-realization.
The score by Stephen Sondheim is a wonderment and Jonathan Tunick's orchestrations are excellent. Sondheim understands human strengths and frailties and it comes through in his music. In this score, he manages to capture a range of emotions as evidenced in songs such as the heartwrenching "Losing My Mind" and his well-known anthem of determination, "I'm Still Here."
The score is delivered by an extremely strong cast. Judy McLane (pictured right) is simply elegant as Phyllis. Not only is she incredibly poised, but she also shows that she can handle the earthier side of her character. As Sally, Florence Lacey gives a seamless performance. Her portrayal is lovely and quite natural. Unfortunately, there are times when her voice seems to be competing with the volume of the orchestra. Nonetheless, both ladies show immense prowess during their musical numbers.
The men in their lives are played by Joseph Dellger (Ben Stone) and Harry A. Winter (Buddy Plummer). Signature alum Harry A. Winter is quite lovable as Buddy. His warmth is communicated all the way to the top row of the audience. As Ben, Mr. Dellger is a sophisticate who is the perfect foil for Ms. McLane's Phyllis. Yet, he brings a softness to the role that makes Ben likable even when the character seems to be without merit.
Playing the younger version of these four characters are Will Gartshore (Young Buddy), Tracy Lynn Olivera (Young Sally), Sean MacLaughlin (Young Ben) and A.K. Brink (Young Phyllis). Mr. Gartshore and Ms. Olivera are especially strong during the second act where the audience is treated to the full force of their talent.
Of course, one can't forget those "Beautiful Girls." As former showgirl Carlotta Campion, Donna Migliaccio shines. Her performance of "I'm Still Here" is thrilling. Equally talented is Judy Simmons (Hattie Walker) who provides one of the many high points in the show when she belts out "Broadway Baby."
The Signature has done right by this Sondheim piece. It is visually captivating and emotionally compelling. Most certainly, Follies is the shining star of Signature's current season. Follies runs though June 1st.
The Signature Theatre
Young Hattie: Kristi Ambrosetti