Ahmanson Theatre | 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A. | Through June 9 | Tickets $20-150 | centertheatregroup.org
Toward the end of the first act of this 2011 Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s 1971 musical about a group of former showgirls reuniting 30 years later in a crumbling Broadway theatre, the aging hoofers sing and tap their way through “Who’s That Woman” with inspiring dexterity, led by the timeless Terri White, and accompanied by gorgeously costumed, spectral versions of their younger selves. The roof-raising number ends in thunderous applause, as the audience and cast feel the power of the show’s primary themes: recapturing lost youth, recognizing failed dreams and celebrating the simple ability to endure. It is a magical theatrical moment, and the emotional heart of this touching, exquisitely performed production directed by Eric Schaeffer.
With James Goldman’s sharp book accompanying one of Sondheim’s richest scores, Follies focuses on the unhappy marriages of two of the former Weismann Follies girls: Phyllis (Jan Maxwell), trapped in a loveless marriage to successful businessman Ben (Ron Raines), and Sally (Victoria Clark), whose loving salesman husband Buddy (Danny Burstein) can’t compete with the torch she still carries for Ben. The night’s festivities cause all four to re-evaluate their relationships and come to grips with their failed dreams and lost youth.
The first act allows some of the old performers to re-enact their signature numbers, with Jayne Houdyshell stealing the spotlight with her touching and hilarious rendition of “Broadway Baby.” West End legend Elaine Paige plays Carlotta Campion, the showgirl who went on to movie fame, and brings down the house with an emotional “I’m Still Here.”
Follies is tricky because almost nothing happens, and yet everyone is changed by the end. Schaeffer and choreographer Warren Carlyle nimbly stitch together the past and present, weaving in the main characters’ younger selves (played well by Christian Delcroix, Lora Lee Gayer, Kirsten Scott and Nick Verina) and successfully navigating the treacherous waters of Act Two’s challenging “Loveland” sequence, a pastiche of fantasy numbers whose heightened theatricality contrasts with the stark emotional reality of the rest of the show.
Clark is terrific, especially when singing with Raines (although the oft-covered “Losing My Mind” seems to sit uncomfortably in her impressive range), and Maxwell nearly steals the show, spitting out anger in “Could I Leave You?” Raines wrings surprising sympathy for the caddish Ben in “The Road You Didn’t Take,” and Burstein uses tremendous physical and vocal command to make us feel his affection and his crushing frustration. Watch the gesture he stops himself from making in the show’s final moment. It is a brilliant choice.
The entire production—which recently earned eight Tony nominations, including best revival—is delicious, with Derek McLane’s eerily abandoned theatre design and Gregg Barnes’ dozens of sumptuous Tony-nominated costumes deserving special kudos.
Follies is a show for adults. Anyone who has ever lived, loved, hoped and settled will be moved by its artful juxtaposition of youthful optimism and midlife regret. —Christopher Cappiello
Jersey Shoresical: A Frickin' Rock Opera
The Hayworth Theatre | 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. | Through May 30 | Tickets $30 | jerseyshoresical.com
The producers of the latest L.A. version of this self-professed “musical parody” have done the show a disservice by setting up shop at the elegant old Hayworth Theatre, a large space that creates the expectation of a fully realized theatrical event. Instead, this hour-long musical revisit of the first season of MTV’s celebration of boardwalk trash is a barebones affair, with no set, no lighting to speak of and a single keyboard to accompany the parade of songs given to the familiar cast of guidos and guidettes. While often funny and sometimes hilarious, the fringe-style event would be more at home in a comedy club or even a tanning salon, where audiences could more easily forgive the lack of production values.
A true spoof should be a little smarter than its source material, but this revue—featuring songs written by Daniel Franzese and Hanna Lopatin—runs directly parallel to the original show, settling for amusing musical re-enactments of scenes from Jersey Shore that don’t offer much insight into the characters’ offensive behavior or our rubbernecking fascination with their trials and tribulations.
One of the show’s most inventive elements is a kind of Greek chorus of “random sluts,” a trio of gals who set the scene and occasionally comment on the proceedings. As embodied by the gifted singers and talented comic actors Lynette Li, Emily Mara and Meghan Parks, they are a delight.
As for the main characters, they’re all here. Ronnie (Franzese in a Flintstones-style muscle suit) and Sammi (Genevieve Jones) have a touching romantic duet (“I F*cking Love You, I F*cking Hate You”) that would melt the heart of the hardest Mafia hitman. Jordan Katcher’s Pauly D and Mike Ciriaco’s Vinnie get together to whiten their sneakers for a night on the town, while Jessica Buttafuoco (yes, of the Buttafuocos) channels Tina Turner for J-Woww’s gospel-infused “Grow Some Balls.” As Mike “the Situation” Sorrentino, Matt McConkey most resembles his real-life counterpart, even if we see the object of his love song coming a mile away, and Rebekka Johnson’s Angelina arrives with her belongings in a trash bag.
The standout in the hard-working cast is Daisy Eagan, whose Broadway pedigree (a Tony for The Secret Garden) is apparent in the poise she brings to Snooki’s plaintive, pickle-induced plea “Gorilla Juice Head.” Calmly kneeling center stage, Eagan sings beautifully and commits fully, allowing the humor to come from the fact that she is more Snooki than Snooki. If more of this slight show was as clever and grounded, this Shoresical could possibly catch a wave and rise above its sea-level roots. —Christopher Cappiello