Thursday, May 31, 2018

Applause! Applause! Review of Astoria Performing Arts Center's production of Follies at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of Astoria Performing Arts Center's production of Follies was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in Volume X, Issue 8 (2018) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Book by James Goldman
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Dev Bondarin
Choreographed by Sara Brians
Musical Direction by James Higgins
Set Design by Ann Beyersdorfer
Costume Design by Jennifer Jacob
Lighting Design by Annie Wiegand
Sound Design by Caroline Eng
Props Design by Andrew Short
Casting Director: Jason Styres, CSA
Good Shepherd United Methodist Church
30-44 Crescent Street
Astoria, New York 11102
Reviewed 5/5/18

Follies was originally produced on Broadway by Harold Prince on April 4, 1971. Although the show ran for over 500 performances and won seven Tony Awards, it ultimately lost money because it was the most costly production Broadway had ever witnessed. Nevertheless, it has been revived several times, and a few of its musical numbers such as "I'm Still Here" and "Could I Leave Her?" have become Broadway standards.

I was transported back in time as I observed the dancing and enjoyed the singing. The story concerns a reunion of the chorus of Weismann's Follies in a crumbling Broadway theatre scheduled for demolition. We wander through the memories of two couples and some of their companions in 1941 and 1971. We alternate between two casts playing the characters in different stages of life set thirty years apart. The plot focuses on Buddy and Sally Durant Plummer, and Benjamin and Phyllis Rogers Stone who are attending the reunion. Behind the facade of joy expressed regarding their attendance is the barely hidden truth about how joyless their marriages are. Although I enjoyed the performance, I was somewhat disappointed by the book because it simply was not made clear why two of the characters did not marry their true loves in 1941. The song, "The Story Of Lucy & Jessie," did not clear things up. Nevertheless, the perfect casting by Jason Styres, and the direction of Dev Bondarin made the musical work.

The choreography of Sara Brians was outstanding. The performances of the two casts shadowed one another and seamlessly advanced the plot. The dancing styles of the 1920s/1930s, and the 1970s are perfectly represented. Dev Bondarin brought out the best in the actors as they emoted the story of their lives ranging from the apogees of young love to the perigees of lost love. James Higgins directed the music to match the emotion of the characters  and the mood of the plot. In the second act, several of the performers present the back stories of their lives - some happy, some unhappy. A number of the songs are homages to Follies performers of the past.

I was most intrigued by the costume designs of Jennifer Jacob. The clothing of 1941 and of 1971 worn by the characters set the sensibilities of each era. One could tell at a glance when you were in 1941 and when you were in 1971. This helped to set the mood of each era and advanced the story. I could clearly distinguish the clothing once worn by my parents when they were young in 1941. What was even more astonishing to realize was my recognition of the clothing styles I once wore in 1971.

Follies takes place in a wonderful space at the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Astoria, Queens. Ann Beyersdorfer has designed a simple set that acts as a time machine that transports one back between 1941 and 1971 as the action takes place in the theatre where Weismann's Follies (a fictitious musical revue based on the Ziegfeld Follies) was once hosted and celebrated. Andrew Short's props welded flawlessly into the performances of the stars. Annie Wiegand's lighting design highlighted the changing of eras and locations. Caroline Eng's sound design was most pleasing. We clearly heard all the performers emote their dialogue and song. 

Although the original book's plot is somewhat thin and slightly flawed, APAC's production of Follies is flawless. You are in for a treat and will see great dancing and even better singing. The Astoria Performing Arts Center has done a most excellent job!

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