Follies poster (Fraver)Yesterday the Kennedy Center launched its new production of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies.  Naturally, I was in the audience. 
According to the press, the production costs topped $7 million, making this is the most expensive local theatre production ever: for Washington DC.  When you look at the cast, it’s not hard to imagine that most of the budget went to pay the actresses.  Leading the crew was Bernadette Peters, a long-time favorite from Into the Woods and, well, everything else she’s done.  This was my first time seeing her live, and she certainly lived up to expectations, although in a much less attention-grabbing way than I’d expected.  (And, btw, if I’m well-preserved at 31, then she’s miraculous at 63.)  Then there was Elaine Paige, who was the first person to sing Memories in Cats, and who was the first Evita — she’s a tiney woman with an enormous voice.  And the rest of the cast was equally remarkable.  My favorite, in terms of colorful characters, was this outrageous French-woman named Regine, who apparently invented the concepts of disc-jockey and discotheque; she once had a vast night-club empire, but has since scaled back to clubs only in Paris and the capital of Khazakhstan (because why wouldn’t you have a club there?).  She was the most obviously fossilized of the old ladies on the stage and her accent was delightfully and completely unintelligibly thick (the only time I could understand her was when she was speaking French).  I think the most moving, though, was Terri White, who I thought was really wonderful, but who has had a rough career and is actually just bouncing back from being homeless.

I liked the production.  It was fun to see the older stars (all in their 60s and 70s) tap dancing and singing — their somewhat diminished agility (thrown into relief by the 20-somethings dancing behind them) was endearing and poignant.  The staging was pretty cool, too, with show-girl ghosts creeping creepily about the stage, revealing glimpses of the older dancers’ pasts.  There were some pretty obvious technical difficulties too, though, that I never would have expected from a production of this calibre (except, maybe, Spider Man).  I hope, for the sake of the Kennedy Center and the reputation of DC theatre, that it polishes up its rough spots and makes it to Broadway.

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