One of Stephen Sondheim’s darkest stageworks — and that’s saying something — Follies, which debuted in 1971, doesn’t get revived very often, despite being regarded as a classic of musical theater. This may have something to do with the fact that the show requires notoriously elaborate and costly staging; past productions, including the original Broadway run, often didn’t break even despite selling well. So, kudos are due the National Theatre of London and director Dominic Cooke for taking it on. The current run is scheduled to end on January 3; but if you don’t have the airfare, you can catch the “filmed live” version at several local cinemas over the next couple of months, beginning at Time and Space Limited in Hudson this Sunday afternoon.
On the plus side, Follies is an extraordinary showcase for returning past stars to the stage long after they’ve outlived their ability to play ingénues. It’s the story of a group of former singer/dancers from the vaudeville-era Weismann (read: Ziegfeld) Follies who return for one last visit to the theater where they once ruled the public imagination. On the stage of the decrepit building, slated to be razed the following day, they interact with the ghosts of their younger, shinier selves and confront their own regrets and compromises.
In the new National Theater version, the cast member whose name will be most familiar to US audiences is Imelda Staunton, portraying Sally. Peter Forbes plays Sally’s straying husband Buddy; Janie Dee plays her long-ago roommate, Phyllis; and Philip Quast plays Phyllis’ husband Ben, for whom Sally still carries a torch. Tracie Bennett is cast in the coveted smaller role of Carlotta, a fading star who gets to belt out what is probably Follies’ most famous show-stopper, “I’m Still Here.”
Calling the National’s version “a superb revival,” The Guardian theater critic Michael Billington enthused, “Played without a trace of camp and no interval, this is a production that perfectly captures the sustained emotional arc of Sondheim and [book author James] Goldman’s musical. I came out admiring the show more than ever.”
National Theatre Live’s delayed broadcast of Follies begins at 1 p.m. this Saturday, December 16. It’ll be back again on New Year’s Day, and make its way across the river to the Rosendale Theatre on January 28. To purchase tickets for Sunday’s show, call the TSL box office at (518) 822-8100 or visit http://timeandspace.org/calendar/nt-live-%E2%80%A2-follies. They cost $20 general admission, $18 for TSL members and $15 for students. Visit http://ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk/venues/5000002008-time-space-limited/production/63102-follies to learn more about the National Theatre production. Time and Space Limited is located at 434 Columbia Street in Hudson.