FOLLIES IN CONCERT at Carnegie Hall
Last Edit: fabjim50 01:19 pm EDT 06/21/24
Posted by: fabjim50 01:12 pm EDT 06/21/24

This was one of those true One Night Only events that made me grateful to 1) live in NYC and 2) be alive. It sold out in a couple of hours and I just happened to be on Facebook when a friend who was in it posted about it. The cast of 50, including a ton of chorus members, and an orchestra of 30, pulled it off with very little rehearsal time. Since it was a concert and not a staging of the whole show, Ted Chapin, who wrote the book EVERYTHING WAS POSSIBLE based on his journals interning on the original 1971 production, hosted and along with original cast member Kurt Petersen (Young Ben) narrated and provided a plot summary. Then individual performers did the numbers. The first half had some microphone problems, the orchestra occasionally drowning out the performers, but they fixed it for the second half. So many Broadway heavyweights showed up and performed for free. Overall it was such a great evening and I was thrilled to be there in the balcony, which is like climbing Mt. Everest to get to. Here are my impressions. Forgive me, I'm not a critic, just a fan.

Beautiful Girls: Hal Linden, Christian Mark Gibbs
Hearing the overture with that incredible orchestra showed how they just don't write them like they used to, and tenor Gibbs' voice soared, then the Beautiful Girls came out to individual applause.

Don’t Look at Me: Katie Finneran, Marc Kudisch
Finneran was frequently off pitch and off rhythm but it actually worked for the song, the character is nervous at seeing her old flame again.

Waiting for the Girls Upstairs: Thom Sesma, Stephen Bogardus, Carolee Carmello, Barbara Walsh
Hearing this, even though I know the song well, reminded me just how complicated a songwriter Sondheim was. This manages to be musically tricky and tell a story with emotional resonance. And not for the first time during the evening I thought my God, this musical was revolutionary at the time. No one had ever written theater songs like this. I can only imagine how people reacted to it in 1971. (The answer is, as Chapin pointed out, some loved it and some hated it. I can only imagine the reaction of some people. thinking they were going to see a Ziegfeld Follies type show and then sitting through a dark musical about bitterness and regret.)

Rain on the Roof: Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso
Ah Paree!: Isabel Keating
Broadway Baby: Adriane Lenox
These pastiche songs were all well performed to an enthusiastic response, especially Caruso and Blackhurst. The lyrics of "Ah, Paris" have always cracked me up - "Constantinople has Turkish baths, and Athens that lovely debris..."

The Road You Didn’t Take: Alexander Gemignani
Another incredible song beautifully sung. Fun fact - Gemignani, the son of Broadway musical director Paul Gemignani, was also the musical director of Sondheim's last musical HERE WE ARE. Sondheim clearly runs in this family.

In Buddy’s Eyes: Christine Ebersole
Maybe the most gorgeous rendition of the song I've ever heard.

Who’s That Woman: Karen Ziemba, Michele Pawk, Dana Moore, Ruth Gotschall, Margo Sappington, Mamie Duncan-Gibbs
In an evening of highlights this was right up there. Ziemba sang the lead and the other older women danced Michael Bennett's original choreography with a tap dancing chorus of their younger selves, and totally pulled it off. This ended the first half.

I’m Still Here: Jennifer Holliday
My personal favorite of the show. Holliday slowed the tempo to half and sang it as a bluesy vamp, like she was performing in a small nightclub with a trio, and totally made it her own. Everyone's jaw was on the floor, it was truly breathtaking. A true Broadway legend proved she's still got it in spades and should be given much more exposure (and maybe a new starring role).

Too Many Mornings: Norm Lewis, Nikki Renee Daniels
Beautifully sung by two pros.

The Right Girl: Michael Beresse
Beresse, who I've always had a crush on since CHICAGO, came out and did a choreographed dance of rage and anguish that stood out from the rest of the numbers.

One More Kiss: Harolyn Blackwell, Mikaela Bennett
Sondheim tried to write an operetta like song and succeeded beautifully, this sounded plucked out of the 1910s or something.

Could I Leave You?: Beth Leavel
After some apparent mic stand problems, Leavel started off quietly and then built to a hilarious rage. What a song, a woman singing about how much she hates her husband. Again, revolutionary.

The God Why Don’t You Love Me Blues: Santino Fontana
I love this crazy, brassy vaudeville song and even tried to learn it once, then gave up. Fontana nailed it.

Losing My Mind: Kate Baldwin
As a friend said, "I totally ate this up and didn't leave any crumbs."

The Story of Lucy and Jessie: Alexandra Billings
One of the biggest surprises of the night - trans actress Billings looked sensational and made the tongue twisting lyrics meaningful, clearly having a great time. This is a really hard song to understand just what the hell she's singing about but this was the first time I really did.

Live, Laugh, Love: Kurt Petersen
This was an emotional highlight - original Young Ben Petersen, now in his 70s, performed with John McMartin's original cane and did great, even though this is one of those songs that has got to be difficult to just get up and perform without living the whole character all night. The whole show is filled with numbers like that. At the end, Petersen told a story about the late Harvey Evans, original Young Buddy, and how he wanted his tombstone to say, "Here lies Harvey Evans. He was in FOLLIES." Then Petersen sang, "Hey up there, way up there, whaddaya say up there" to Harvey in heaven. It was a perfect ending. Chapin recalled how Sondheim told him that FOLLIES was always his favorite show he wrote. My favorite will always be SWEENEY TODD, but this evening just reminded exactly how genius and brilliant Sondheim was and how lucky we are to have experienced him in our lifetimes.

Seeing this along with TITANIC in the same week - too much!!!
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