Story reveals the falsity of the characters’ dreams
Published in the August 30 – September 12, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life
When Stephen Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics for his 1971 Broadway show “Follies,” he gave audiences an affectionate look at the American musical theater between the two world wars.
The South Valley Civic Theatre invites musical fans to step back in time and discover the “ghosts” haunting a crumbling Broadway theater where the past performers of the “Weismann’s Follies” meet for a heart-tugging reunion the day before the building is torn down.
The story of “Follies” looks at the traditional conventions of the musical genre to reveal the hollowness and falsity of the characters’ dreams and illusions as the former showgirls remember their glory days, said Marianne Snook, the show’s producer.
“While we get glimpses into who they are now, we also get to see through their ‘ghosts’ and memories played out by their younger selves who they once were,” she said. “We get to experience the raw reality, the harsh reality of where they aspires to be in life versus where they see themselves now.”
While SVCT prides itself on its intricate and beautiful sets for most of its musical shows, “Follies” in contrast takes place on an empty stage. The show’s director, Megan Griffin, took on the challenge of building an over-the-top adventure for SVCT’s audience using other theatrical elements.
“The cast of 36 is one of the most talented group of singers, actors and dancers ever gathered at SVCT,” Snook said. “We will have a large, live orchestra. As Sondheim is one of the most complex composers, this is not to be missed. The music will blow the audience away.”
The orchestra is led by longtime SVCT music director, Alan Chipman. The choreography is by Christine Carrillo and Jessica Damron who have worked hard with the performers to recreate the feel of the old-time Ziegfeld Follies-style revue shows. The vocal director, Carol Harris, makes sure the performers belt out their Broadway tunes with gusto. An array of amazing showgirl costumes were created for “Follies” by Michele Griffin and Adrienne Wilkinson.
“We will be brought back to the glory days of the Follies as if we never left,” Snook said. “Sparkly, colorful, elegant, fun costumes are topped off by some of the most fantastic headdresses ever which have been handmade by Adrienne.”
Actress Suzanne Guzzetta performs the role of the grown-up version of Sally Durant nostalgically visiting the theater one last time in “Follies”.
“On a deeper level, while Sally comes off as perky and friendly, really she’s quite fragile emotionally. The desires of her youth were stymied, and rather than develop a new plan she let life happen to her,” Guzzetta said. “Sondheim uses lyrics and music in such incredible ways to portray the subtle variations occurring beneath the surface.”
Edie Garcia-Flores portrays the young version of Benjamin Stone. He describes his character as naïve, a man who fails to see long-term consequences to his life choices.
“He chooses to accept a love that he thinks he deserves which only assures his monetary well-being and not his emotional well-being,” Garcia-Flores said. “While still an intelligent individual, he has difficulty expressing his inner thoughts and chooses to guard his emotions. It eventually becomes second nature to him.”
The story of “Follies” brings into light the death of the American Dream, grief and the loss of innocence, he said. By juxtaposing colors, lyrics, and stylings in his musical numbers Sondheim helps the audience ride the same roller coaster of life as do the characters in the show.
Myra Kaelin portrays Stella Deems as a confident, mostly happy woman, but with an underlying sense of loss. Her song “Who’s That Woman?” talks about this strange person she sees every day in front of her mirror. The woman is not the person she remembers but someone laced with weariness and sadness, Kaelin said.
Sondheim’s lyrics and music are “difficult” and full of emotional depth, she said.
“The melodies are unusual and haunting. The lyrics often contradict the cheery music you’re hearing. While Stella tap dances her way around the stage, she sings: ‘Who’s that woman? I mean I see that woman, who’s joking, but choking back tears…’”
SVCT board president Peter Mandel said one reason the selection committee chose “Follies” to open the 2017-2018 season was because the show has one of the best Broadway musical scores with music and lyrics that will entertain as well as challenge audiences.
“Stephen Sondheim is one of the most brilliant composers in the history of musical theater. SVCT has done many of his shows over the past years, but never attempted ‘Follies,’” he said. “Over the years SVCT has been able and willing to tackle some of the more challenging shows in theater such as ‘Next to Normal’ and ‘God of Carnage’ to bring a broader variety of theater to the South Bay. It was time for us to bring ‘Follies’ to our stage for our community. It’s just an amazing show.”