A Musically Sumptuous Follies in Concert by Showtunes at the Moore Theatre
Also see David's reviews of Kooza and Maestro's Menagerie
Showtunes Theatre Company recently launched their eleventh season with a change of venue to the Moore Theatre in downtown Seattle and with the musical Follies by Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman, under the direction of Victor Pappas. The move should bring more attention to the deserving company, with more seats available and a more "mainstream" venue. Their unique focus is on less frequently performed but valuable historic musicals. Follies is actually more performed, but it's a better concert-style musical than fully mounted.
The songs from Follies have become iconic. They stand alone and tell a story, and are acknowledged masterpieces of the form. The book of the musical is a hackneyed affair (oops, bad pun) about a reunion of singers and dancers in a soon-to-be-demolished theater before the wrecking ball.
Four of the main reunionizers are two men and two women who seem to have married the wrong partner. Much of their reunion is spent looking back at what could have been or should have been, and revealing trashy secrets of cheating to their spouses while they do it. It's the least pleasant aspect of the production. Much of the iconic music, though, is created around regret, lost opportunities, lost love, and what we're "stuck" with, sometimes, in life.
Showtunes gave us a concert version, with minimal costumes (though this outing seemed to have been more vigorously costumed than usual), minimal sets and use of scripts and music stands by the cast. This took little away from the production value, since the casting was strong and the singers are the focal point. The younger singers, the ones portraying the past lives, were all uniformly good, though the musical doesn't give them much time to shine. They included Eric Ankrim, Katherine Strohmaier, Aaron Finley, Michele Gray Ankrim and Megan Chenovick. Of the four main characters, Anna Lauris Boynton was a standout, and had two of the best Sondheim songs: "Buddy's Eyes" and "Losing My Mind." Bob DeDea had a strong moment with "The Right Girl." Beth DeVries emoted well with "Could I Leave You." Also, Ann Evans shone with "Broadway Baby." Bobbi Kotula belted it to the roof with "I'm Still Here," getting the loudest applause of the evening.
The small band with musical direction by talented Mark Rabe made the most of their score. Even with relatively few hours of rehearsal in this model of "rehearse for a week, put on two shows, it's over," they sounded sure and strong.
However, the move to The Moore creates a few problems. It's not a "chummy" space. It's a pretty formal theatrical stage, very high ceilings, and the lighting was dim and the spots were ungeneroustoo small for their subjects and they kept turning off at inopportune times. Another issue was audio: microphones on stands created a need for singers to be right up on them to be heard properly and they very often weren't. It might be that, as clunky as body mikes are, that would be preferable for future productions. In particular, Michael Mendiola as Ben was underamplified for virtually the whole production. He has a very nice, if muted voice, and was unfortunately too phlegmatic and laid back for the role.
Overall, most of the singing was more singing than acting. When the performers were able to capture character motivation and infuse it with the song, they came to life. Their singing was lovely, but in a space like The Moore, they're going to have to work harder to reach out and grab the audience. Muted emotions won't leap off the stage.
Follies ran June 6 and 7, 2010. Next up is Call Me Madam September 25th at 8pm and 26th at 2pm. Get it on the calendar now so you don't miss it. There is always an enthusiastic audience that appreciates the show and some grand performers. More information is at www.showtunestheatre.org.
See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.