Friday, July 22, 2022

"FOLLIES" ★ ★ ★ ★

The moment Louis Parnell walks onto stage as impresario Dimitri Weissman, we realize what lies in front of us: an evening of pure, unapologetically joyful theatre. Bill English's direction of Steven Sondheim and James Goldman's "Follies" whooshes us from curtain to curtain and drops us off exhilarated. This is one of the rare Sondheim shows we would like to see last even longer.

There may be more going on here than simply what we see in front of us. Everyone on stage and in back of it, in balcony or orchestra seat, performer to producer, rehearsal pianist to reviewer, all of us have come through a period of profound insecurity and plague. "Follies" had been cast, rehearsed, built and then postponed once already, in 2020, by the ultra-villain Covid-19. This current 2022 production has had its own problems with the virus. So, as we sit in the theater, wearing our masks, vaxes checked at the door, feeling somewhat insecure about other theater goers in front, to the side in back and above us, our delight in the production is probably added to by a sense of relief and joy. All these costumes! Music! Dancing! Singing! Characters falling in and out of love! 

We're back!

At its heart, "Follies" is about keeping the dream alive as we age. Each character's personal story is presented in Act One, and then in Act Two the young man and woman from the glory days between World Wars, when Weissman's Follies was at its peak, stands next to the person they have become in 1971, when this show was written.

Of course, this being Stephen Sondheim, there are so many zingers flying around you can't catch most of them, like "Hey Mr. Producer, I'm talkin' to you, Sir," and "Waiting for a nice man, like a Ziegfield or a Weissman..."

Some of the songs are better than others, a few of the performances miss the mark. But there are many standouts, such as the ensemble's "Waiting for the Girls Upstairs," Maureen McVerry's acidly hysterical "Could I Leave You?," Cindy Goldfield's spectacular "I'm Still Here," sung while maneuvering a turntable to continue standing in one spot, and the very funny "The-God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me-Blues," sung by Anthony Rollins-Mullens and danced by Catrina Manahan and Emily Corbo.

RATINGS:  ★★★★ 

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division's Special Subsection for Stephen Sondheim Shows grants FOUR STARS to San Francisco Playhouse's production of "Follies." It's that good. You've got plenty of time - it runs until September 10.

San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post St., San Francisco
Through Sept. 10, 2022

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