Encores at NY City Center - Feb. 2007

Review by John Kenrick

As the audience roared through the tumultuous curtain calls on the final night of the triumphant Encores series staging of Stephen Sondheim's Follies, a friend asked why I looked so damned sad. I told him it was simple -- I have no reason to believe that anything else I see this season will be nearly as glorious.

Few musicals are so suited to an all-star concert treatment -- Chicago being one of the obvious contenders. Like that Kander & Ebb treasure (which sprang from an Encores weekend into a still-thriving ten year Broadway run), Sondheim's Follies score is chock full of showstoppers, giving magical moments to all the lead players and several supporting characters. James Goldman's book does much of its work brilliantly, evoking the emotions that pour forth when old cast members of a long-gone series of Broadway revues reunite to celebrate the imminent demolition of their old theatre. True, the soap opera-like romantic tangles of the four leads get painfully smushed in the second act, leading up to a climactic nervous breakdown that no production has ever quite made believable.

Director Casey Nicholaw shrewdly puts the focus on the shining jewels in Follies' necklace, rather than stressing the sometimes broken plot chain between them. The ghosts of the past move easily among the living, and all of Nicholaw's choreography is precisely right. A cast of stage veterans makes the most of each number and every razor-toothed tidbit of dialogue.

Donna Murphy is a red-hot knockout as Phyllis, whose marriage to the successful Ben has collapsed into discontented cynicism. Her renditions of the rueful "Leave You" and "The Story of Lucy and Jessie" set the theatre-loving crowd to roaring, and left me breathless. Matching her brilliance every step of the way is Victoria Clark as Sally, an unhappy housewife whose marriage to the unglamorous Buddy has been plagued by her unresolved passion for Ben. The vulnerability of Ms. Clark's "In Buddy's Eyes" and the sheer smolder of her "Losing My Mind" permanently re-define the possibilities in this challenging role. Victor Garber delivers a solid, understated performance as the discontented Ben, and Michael McGrath blew me away with his kick-ass take on Buddy, the two-timing husband who finds himself two-timed. Oh, if only performances of this caliber had been on tap in the disappointing 2001 Roundabout revival!

The delicious Christine Baranski oozes irony as aging star Carlotta Campion, but to this observer's eyes she is a tad too young to give "I'm Still Here" maximum impact. Metropolitan Opera diva Lucine Amara delivers a gorgeous "One More Kiss," ably abetted by young soprano Leena Chopra. Fans welcomed the diminutive powerhouse Mimi Hines with glee, and she responded by singing the ever popular "Broadway Baby" to a house-rocking fare-thee-well.

Yvonne Constant gives a bona fide Gallic kick to "Ah Paris." Robert E. Fitch and Anne Rogers damn near steal the show as aging dancers still awash in youthful affection, and JoAnne Worley thrills the faithful by leading the ladies in a jubilant "Who's That Woman." Arthur Rubin delivers the death-defying high notes of "Beautiful Girls" with the same élan he displayed in the now-legendary Lincoln Center concert version. One only regrets that the marvelous Philip Bosco does not have more to do as impresario Dimitri Weissman. As the younger versions of the four leads Colin Donnell, Jenny Powers, Curtis Holbrook and Katie Klaus are exactly right, making "You're Gonna Love Tomorrow/Love Will See Us Through" a real joy, and giving their counterparts some truly bittersweet realities to look back on.

Eric Stern's musical direction, Ken Billington's lighting, scenic touches by John Lee Beatty and sound design by Tom Morse -- all are magnificent, adding to the impact of this material. Special kudos to costume consultants William Ivey Long and Gregg Barnes, and oh how sweet it is to hear Jonathan Tunick's full original orchestrations again -- among the finest of his distinguished career.

No, I think it is very safe to say that nothing else this season will match the sheer glory of this Follies -- unless (as rumor has it) some producer has the guts and brains to move this work to a full Broadway run. Hey, if it worked for Chicago . . . and while we're at it, a movie version might not be such a bad idea either.

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