The theme for April 2012 at Musical Cyberspace is “Single-Song Showstoppers”, a series of big numbers sung by a featured characters in a show – typically their only solo, although they might sing minor bits and pieces elsewhere – each of which raise the roof.
Today’s single-song showstopper – and most likely not the only one from James Goldman and Stephen Sondheim’s concept musical, Follies, that will rear its head this month – is “Who’s That Woman?” The song is sung by Stella Deems, played in the Broadway productions of the show by Mary McCarty (1971), Carol Woods (2001) and Terri White (2011).
The Setup: At a reunion of past performers of the Weismann Follies, Stella and all of the ex-chorines line up to perform an old number, mirrored by the ghosts of their younger selves.
The Song: When “Who’s That Woman?” starts, it seems like a fun number with a bunch of old broads shaking their hips and then delightfully breaking into a full on hoofing routine. What catapults this number into the extraordinary is when the younger ghosts that represent the women dancing up front appear upstage. Now the concept alone is great, but the execution does make a difference. Michael Bennett’s work on Follies was nothing short of genius. His choreography for what is known as “the mirror number” is thrilling to watch. It builds, section by section, expertly and the spirit within the viewer is similarly enlivened, bit by bit, until there is a well of emotions evoked by the sight of these ladies reliving their memories, the heartbreaking juxtaposition of the performers with their ghosts of their younger selves, the joyous energy with which everyone attacks the number. It’s a complex reaction brought about by complex theatre-making at its best, with Bennett’s choreography drawing everything together. One departs from the original staging at one’s peril, as Kathleen Marshall discovered in the 2001 Broadway revival, in which the number ends up achieving very little other than being a low-key diversion. (To be fair, whoever choreographed the 1990 revival in Los Angeles almost got it right, but pushed the comedy a little hard, disrupting the balance that Bennett achieved perfectly in his staging.)
I’d love to hear your thoughts on “Who’s That Woman?” Click on the comments link at the end of this post and share them with us!