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 cr
ew 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.