Ahmanson lands Broadway's 'Follies' to fill gap in its season
“Follies,” the 1971 musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman, will play at the Ahmanson Theatre May 9-June 9 (with previews starting May 3), filling a gap in the season created when a planned revival of “Funny Girl” fell through.
Center Theatre Group announced Tuesday that it would import the production now on Broadway that originated in May at Washington's Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Michael Ritchie, CTG’s artistic director, said “we are currently in discussions” to lure members of the Broadway cast led by Bernadette Peters, Elaine Page, Jan Maxwell, Jayne Houdyshell and Danny Burstein. “Follies” is scheduled to close on Broadway Jan. 22 after a four-month run.
The Ahmanson staging will be a special, one-off engagement, rather than part of a tour. It’s a big production, featuring a 40-member ensemble that performs flashbacks to vaudeville-era Broadway. Reviews have been mostly positive.
“It is a coup for CTG to get it and a gift for Los Angeles audiences to receive it,” said Ritchie, whose nonprofit company was at risk of taking an economic punch had it been unable to fill an empty slot at the Ahmanson, where the generally more commercial fare is expected to help subsidize the generally edgier shows at the Mark Taper Forum and Kirk Douglas Theatre.
With “Follies,” Ritchie segues neatly, if perhaps improvisationally, from presenting a show that tells the story of one of the signature stars of the famed Ziegfeld Follies -- "Funny Girl" heroine Fanny Brice -- to one that focuses on former members of a Ziegfeld-like stage extravaganza who reunite inside their dilapidated old theatrical haunt on the night before its demolition.
Sondheim and Goldman’s musical about the youthful pasts and haunted presents of veterans of the fictitious Weissman Follies won seven Tony Awards in 1972 for its initial Broadway staging, directed by Harold Prince and Michael Bennett. The current revival is directed by Eric Schaeffer, a Sondheim expert who is artistic director of the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va.
The original “Follies” -- there also was a Broadway revival in 2001 starring Blythe Danner, Judith Ivey, Treat Williams and Polly Bergen -- occupies a special place in Los Angeles stage history. On July 22, 1972, a transfer of the Broadway production starring Alexis Smith, Gene Nelson, Dorothy Collins, John McMartin and Yvonne DeCarlo was the first show mounted at the brand new Shubert Theatre in Century City.
Some 30 years later, more than 200 members of the L.A. stage community bid adieu to the 1,824-seat Shubert, which, like the fictitious Weissman Theatre in “Follies,” had outlived its purpose and faced a date with the wrecking ball.
“To be here tonight is like being in the show 'Follies,’” Brad Ellis, a pianist and music director for stage shows who's now part of the cast of television's "Glee," remarked on that occasion, which took place a week after a poorly reviewed revival of “The Who’s Tommy” had brought down the house’s final curtain on Dec. 30, 2001.
Subsequent L.A. revivals of “Follies” have included a 2002 Reprise! staging at the Wadsworth Theatre, with Vikki Carr, Bob Gunton, Harry Groener, Carol Lawrence, Patty Duke and Donna McKechnie, an East West Players production directed by Tim Dang in 2000, and a 1990 staging at the Terrace Theatre in Long Beach by the now-defunct Long Beach Civic Light Opera, which went bankrupt five years later.
Bottom line: While “Follies,” a musical about the attrition wrought by time, has enduring appeal, only half the entities that have mounted major productions in L.A. can still boast, like one of the show's characters in her big number, that “I’m Still Here.”
-- Mike Boehm
Photos, from top: A production number in the current Broadway revival of 'Follies'; Bernadette Peters performs in the current 'Follies.' Credits: Joan Marcus