Written by Alina Mae Wilson
Ten years ago Cypress College opened their new campus theater with a musical –Stephen Sondheim’s Follies. To celebrate their 50th anniversary, they’re doing it again. Follies has returned to Cypress. It’s a pleasant show to look at. All of the costumes are colorful and luxurious while all of the sets suit the story. Every singer is talented and well trained. The largest problems in Cypress College’s Follies do not stem from lack of effort but from a lack of natural ease. Too many actors have difficulty delivering their lines, which results in them sounding robotic and disconnected. The show occasionally switches between being fun and entertaining to being awkward because of uncomfortable line-reading.
On the stage of the Weissman Theater, which is scheduled for demolition, a reunion party is being held to honor the showgirls of past performances. Two of the showgirls in attendance are former best friends Sally and Phyllis. Accompanying them are their then-boyfriends-now-husbands Buddy and Ben. The four friends are the main focus of the story as they concern themselves with wounds from the past that never really healed and continue to plague them in the present.
Costuming for this show is gorgeous. Cypress College alumnus and Emmy Award winner Rodney Muñoz returned to do the costumes, and it shows. They are vibrant, appropriate for the time period, and attractive to the eye. The set is perfectly suitable for the story, but I can’t help but feel that perhaps the stage is a bit too small for their purposes. Ensemble numbers keep getting cramped, and performers tend to block each other during some of the more well-populated scenes. Songs featuring less performers are more successful at being fun to watch.
Musically, Follies is a joy from beginning to end. Stephen Sondheim’s compositions do not disappoint, and neither do any of the vocalists. Keep in mind that the original Broadway show was first performed in 1971, but I think the music has held up reasonably well. Several of the songs have actually become auditioning standards. It really isn’t hard to see why. They’re catchy, and all of the songs (in keeping with the Sondheim tradition) are consistently emotional. There’s a depth in the music that isn’t really felt in the rest of the show though –especially in light of the fact that several of the actors just don’t deliver believable performances because they don’t sound like real people when they talk. However, the two leading ladies deliver strong and consistently authentic sounding dialogue coupled with strong vocals. Marleena Barber plays Sally, and her solo “Losing My Mind” is one of the highlights of the show. Amanda Webb is a good amount of fun as Phyllis –delivering her biting comments with confidence and a snide attitude that makes the theater roar. Special mention of the night goes to Jacqueline Crist-Franzen as Heidi. Her operatic voice is perfect for the song “One More Kiss,” and her diminutive stature makes her even more sympathetic to the viewer.
Unfortunately, not even good singing and acting can change the fact that this is not a very exciting play. I’m not surprised it’s popular because of how good the music is, but I think sometimes people mistake concept for depth. People performing numbers side by side with their younger selves onstage does not automatically make the story riveting. The truth is, the best plot points in Follies are those of the two main couples, and not enough time is spent on them to make it riveting all throughout. If you are a big fan of the show, I think you should come because it looks nice, and some of the songs sound great. If you love Sondheim, you should come listen to the beautiful music, but if you are looking for a genuinely deep show with great complexity –it’s probably all right to skip this production of Follies.