Saturday, December 3, 2016

Fall 2016: St. Louis

A rare post about my hometown, but I couldn't resist commenting on the production of Steven Sondheim's Follies that launched the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis's 50th Anniversary. Here's a cut and past of what I posted on Broadway World after attending the very first preview:

"I was there last night and while I love the score but not necessarily the show (disappointed with the Kennedy Center's production, blown away with Gary Griffin's inspired staging at Chicago Shakespeare), this new mounting is stellar. All four leads are perfect, delivering fully-realized characterizations that end up being heart-breaking. While Adam Heller reads slightly older than the rest (and maybe Noll younger), this was the first time I really cared for Buddy. The show starts a little slow and awkward (isn't that always the case with Follies), but it doesn't take long to pick up. The posted runtime is 2:25 with intermission and I walked out the door at 10:35. There were no pauses or mistakes and it seemed like this couldn't have been up and running for awhile now. There were 29 actors on stage and 12 musicians in the pit (who sounded great!). The rest of my random comments include spoilers so let me pause...


I love the fact that this Buddy doesn't dance during "The Right Girl." I've always hated this non-hoofer character dancing his ass off during this non-Loveland number, but the lack of choreography here is just right and Heller acts the hell out of it.

This is the best set I've seen at the Rep and it perfectly fills out the Loretto-Hilton's super wide stage and its half-as-wide three-quarters thrust. This time around the Weismann theater's stage is circular with its run-down proscenium on an outer turntable (which of course spins during the transition to Loveland) covering the thrust. The sides of the stage (which are hidden for most Rep productions but used for most of Opera Theatre's) make up the wings with entrances on one side and stairwells to dressing rooms on the other. An inner turntable is used effectively throughout, starting with the overture as the stairwell comes together for the ghosts to descend.

"Who's That Woman?" is the one of the reasons I'm going to try to see this again. I think many in the audience probably thought the taps were canned when the older ladies started to dance. The younger versions eventually appear from the wings not only tapping but rolling on the outlines of full-size mirrors with them. These eventually get rolled onto the inner turntable and everything turns into a Busby Berkeley-style spinning extravaganza. Needless to say the audience went slightly crazy (especially for the Rep's older demographic).

Nancy Opel's "I'm Still Here" also received a great response and rightly so. I will quibble though that I like this number delivered to members of the reunion instead of being performed alone on stage as an inner monologue. Same with the "Rain on the Roof/Ah, Paris!/Broadway Baby" sequence, where are those party-goers always running off too?!?

I loved Noll's (or the director's) choices for "In Buddy's Eyes" and "Losing My Mind." The first comes off very angry and really digs into Ben. Most of the latter is very sane and sultry (clearly at odds with the lyrics) with Sally only really losing it at the end.

"The Story of Lucy and Jessie" could probably use some more elaborate choreography, but that also might get in the way of Skinner's clear delivery of it. I love me some Emily Skinner and loved EVERYTHING she did in this role.

For a moment I thought Bradley Dean was having a heart attack at the end of "Live, Laugh, Love" and I bet some in the audience thought he was going up on his lines. His number and what follows pack an emotional wallop.

All said, this production is a great way to kick off the Rep's 50th year. If only I loved everything they did as much as this one."

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