‘Follies’ Opens The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’ 50th Season

 In Culture, Feature

Former show people dance under a wrecking ball in this rarely seen musical, on stage at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through Oct. 2, 2016.

The “wrecking ball” is real and imaginary in “Follies,” where one-time Zigfieldian showgirls (and their husbands) reunite hours before their old theater is demolished. Marriages, too, may be destroyed as past and present blend together in one impossible night. Stephen Sondheim wrote the haunting character songs that leapfrog with his original, nostalgia-themed numbers throughout.

Michael Bennett co-directed the original version on Broadway in 1971, with Harold Prince. And Ted Chapin’s book, “Everything Was Possible,” suggests “Follies” helped inspire Bennett to go on to create 1975’s “A Chorus Line” (music and lyrics by Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban).

Local actress Zoe Vander Haar has one of the four or five (historically) show-stopping numbers in this month’s revival in St. Louis, “Broadway Baby.” And to her the two “backstage Broadway” musicals, each overseen by Bennett, fit together nicely:
“A Chorus Line” is about the need to get there, and figuring out what to do if you can’t. “Follies” looks at what happens after you’ve been there, and what you actually did after. And how you survived, if the ‘after’ didn’t live up to expectations.”

Adam Heller plays the ‘older Buddy’ (with Cody Williams as his ‘younger self’), and calls “Follies” “famously abstract:” ghosts of 1920s showgirls haunt the stage, and the gathered party-goers revive their specialty acts in quick succession (often alongside their younger selves). Ultimately it comes to a riveting, hyper-stylized explosion.

Great songs include “I’m Still Here,” sung this time by Nancy Opel (hear the Elaine Stritch version here) and “Who’s That Woman,” reenacted by a gang of older gals on stage.

Ghost of Solange
But Christianne Noll (who plays older Sally, and sings “Losing My Mind”) and director Rob Ruggiero both set aside all the big, brash songs, citing the very introspective “One More Kiss” as their favorite number: a haunting tune from an older opera singer, while her “younger self” re-enacts it alongside.

Director Ruggiero calls the show “a true masterpiece and far ahead of its time.”

St. Louisan Kathie Dalton sang and danced throughout the original, and played a ghostly showgirl in the Tony-winning premiere, haunting the ruins of a crumbling theater, nightly donning a headdress of white peacock feathers. Check out her “Follies” memorabilia on her Facebook page.

The St. Louis County library also has a curated on-line site for “Follies.” Read about more theater events happening in St. Louis on ALIVE’s curated online calendar.


Top photo of Kathryn Boswell (Young Phyllis) and Michael Williams (Young Ben). Photo and costume rendering courtesy of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

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