Sunday, August 21, 2011

Lord, Lord, Lord, That Woman Is Me.

Friday night, I saw the 40th anniversary production of Stephen Sondheim's Follies at the Marquis Theatre on Broadway. I've loved, loved, loved this show's music since I first really got to know it in the late 70's. When I heard the show was hitting New York, it took me about 14 seconds to decide to plop down my hard earned bucks to see this whacking great container of brilliancy and to bask in the glory of the likes of Bernadette Peters torching up the stage.

One of my great theatrical regrets is to have missed seeing with my very own eyes/hearing with my very own ears the original cast of this 1971 gem. It ranks right up there with having missed Julie Andrews in My Fair Lady and Camelot, Gwen Verdon in Damn Yankees, and the original Broadway cast of Guys & Dolls. (Damn! Sigh.) I can only imagine what it must've been like to hear the wonderful Dorothy Collins belt out "Losing My Mind," Alexis Smith throw out the sarcastic "Could I Leave You?," or Yvonne de Carlo dredge up her past in "I'm Still Here."

But 40 years later I got to see the whole thing unfold with another superior cast of thousands (or so it seemed), a full blown 28-piece orchestra (rare these days), and an eerie, crumbling theatre set on stage. It's a crazy, sad, tragical show, with lots of humor thrown in. Every song is a jewel. There were very few disappointments. The first act drags a little, in spite of all the fun musical numbers. And Elaine Paige, like most singers, oversells "I'm Still Here," though the rest of her Carlotta was endearing.

Two strong questions threaded their way through this particular Follies for me.

One: which Mary from the past is shadowing me?  In the musical the retired showgirls are shadowed by their former glamour-girl selves. I found myself caught up in the way the young selves studied their future, older selves and began thinking about what young Mary is thinking of aging Mary. And is that younger me 8? 15? 26?

And two:  do you have to be over 60 to finally get this show? Well, having loved it since my late 20's, I can testify that this 60-year-old heard songs like "The Road You Didn't Take," "The Story of Lucy and Jessie," and "Who's That Woman?" with different ears. I think you can understand the regret, the pain, the ego held up to the light in this show at any age, but, boy, the older you are the more you absolutely know what's being put to you in Sondheim's lyrics. Yeah, that woman is me.

OK. I'll shut up now, because this is one show I could talk about for hours. Never fear, I'll spare you that folly.

Who's that woman.
That cheery, weary woman
Who's dressing for yet one more spree?
Each day I see her pass
In my looking-glass--
Lord, Lord, Lord, that woman is me!

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