Book by James Goldman. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The original Broadway production opened on 4 April 1971 and was directed by Harold Prince and Michael Bennett, with choreography by Bennett, running for 522 performances.
Synopsis and Musical Numbers
On the soon to be demolished stage of the Weismann Theatre, a reunion is being held to honor the beautiful Weismann chorus girls that once performed there. The once resplendent theatre now contains little but planks, scaffolding and the ghosts of the pale young showgirls (PROLOGUE/OVERTURE). As the ghosts slowly drift through the theatre, a majordomo breaks the mood as he enters with his entourage of waiters and waitresses. They pass pass through the spectral showgirls without seeing them. Sally Durant Plummer, a small, blonde, energetic, 49-year old former Weismann girl enters, and her youthful counterpart moves towards her. Phyllis Rogers Stone, an extremely sophisticated and attractive woman, also arrives with her handsome and successful husband, Ben. As their younger counterparts move towards them, Phyllis comments to Ben about their past. He feigns disinterest; there is an underlying tension in their relationship.More guests arrive and among them is Sally’s husband, Buddy, a 53-year old man whose outward smiles cover much inner disappointment. Finally Mr. Weismann himself enters and greets his guests. Then Roscoe, an elderly tenor, introduces the former showgirls as he must have done many years before (BEAUTIFUL GIRLS). Former Weismann performers at the reunion include: Max and Stella Deems, who lost their radio jobs and became store owners in Miami; Solange La Fitte, who has a perfume for men named after her; Hattie Walker, who has lost five younger husbands; Vincent and Vanessa, former dancers who now own an Arthur Murray franchise; Heidi Schiller, who once had Franz Lehar write a waltz in her honor; and Carlotta Campion, a film star who has embraced all life has to offer and benefited from every experience.
As the guests remember the past, the story of Ben, Phyllis, Buddy and Sally begins to unfold. It seems that Phyllis and Sally were once roommates, while Ben and Buddy were best friends who were going to school in NY. When Sally sees Ben, her former lover for whom she still cares deeply, she greets him self-consciously (DON’T LOOK AT ME). Carlotta comments that she is tired of listening to everyone’s stories and just wants someone to listen to her. Meanhile, Buddy and Phyllis join their respective spouses and the foursome reminisces about the old days of their courtship and the theatre, their memories vividly coming to life in the bodies of their young counterparts (WAITING FOR THE GIRLS UPSTAIRS). Each member of the quartet is quite shaken by the vivid remembrance of their past and the realization of what they have become. Elsewhere, Willy Wheeler (a portly man in his sixties) performs a cartwheel for a photographer, while Emily and Theodore Whitman, two ex-vaudeville performers in their seventies, perform an old routine (THE RAIN ON THE ROOF). Solange proves she is still fashionable at 66 (AH, PARIS!), and Hattie Walker, performs her own showstopping number (BROADWAY BABY). Sally is awed by Ben’s apparently glamorous life, but Ben wonders if he made the right choices and considers how things might have been (THE ROAD YOU DIDN’T TAKE). Sally tells Ben how her days have been spent since she left the Follies, desperately trying to convince him (and herself) that her marriage to Buddy keeps life from being mundane (IN BUDDY’S EYES). But it is clear that Sally has never completely laid down her torch for Ben – even though she was terribly hurt when Young Ben chose to marry Young Phyllis, having used Young Sally for his sexual satisfaction. Sally shakes loose from the memory and begins to dance with Ben, who was touched by the memory of the Sally he once cast aside.
Phyllis interrupts this tender moment and Sally aside for a rather biting encounter. But this confrontation is interrupted by another performance – this time, all the ex-chorines line up to perform an old number (WHO’S THAT WOMAN?) where they are mirrored by their former selves. Afterwards, Phyillis returns to Ben who angrily discuss their lives and their relationship, which has become numb and emotionless. Sally sadly goes over to Buddy; she is bitter and has never been happy with him, even though he has always adored her deeply. Carlotta amuses everyone with a tale of how here dramatic solo was cut from the Follies because the audience found it humorous, but somehow the number works when she sings it today (I’M STILL HERE).
Afterwards, Ben confides to Sally that his life is empty. She yearns to be held by him, but young Sally slips between them and the three move together (TOO MANY MORNINGS). Ben, caught up in the passion of the memories with Sally, kisses her as Buddy enters. Buddy is furious and Ben, startled by the reality of the moment and the parallel between the present and the past, tells Sally it was over long ago. He goes off, leaving a dazed Sally who still dreams of a marriage that will never happen. Buddy angrily fantasises about the girl he should have married, one who would have loved him and made him a somebody (THE RIGHT GIRL). Aloud, he also considers his relationship with Sally. Sally overhears some of this and tells him that it does not matter because Ben has asked her to marry him.
Buddy knows that she is either crazy or drunk but he’s already supported Sally through the drunken rehabilitation clinics and the mental hospitals and cannot take anymore. Meanwhile, Ben drunkenly propositions Carlotta with whom he once had a fling. She refuses his advances for she is presently involved with a 26-year old. Another performance is given, this time by Heidi Schiller, who is joined by her younger counterpart (ONE MORE KISS).
Phyllis is seen necking with a waiter and confesses to him that she had always wanted a son. She eventually turns away and goes back to Ben telling him that she cannot return to what they had. When Ben tells Phyllis he wants a divorce, she assumes the request is due to his love for Sally. Angry and hurt, Phyllis contemplates whether she will grant this request (COULD I LEAVE YOU? The two couples and their young counterparts argue furiously and insanely about how foolish they were when they were young. Suddenly, at the peak of madness and confusion, the couples are engulfed by their follies, which transform the rundown theatre into a fantastical LOVELAND. Young Phyllis and Young Ben come to life and sing to each other the hopes for their future (YOU’RE GONNA LOVE TOMORROW). They are followed by Young Buddy and Young Sally who express their hopes for their future (LOVE WILL SEE US THROUGH). A show curtain drops for BUDDY’S BLUES (THE GOD-WHY-DON’T-YOU-LOVE-ME? BLUES). Sally appears as a screen vamp of the 30s (LOSING MY MIND), while Phyllis tells THE STORY OF LUCY AND JESSIE. Ben begins to offer a philosophy for getting through life (LIVE, LAUGH, LOVE) but he can’t go through with it. He stumbles, forgets the words, and anxiously calls to the conductor for the lyrics as he frantically tries to keep going. Ben becomes frenzied, while the chorus continues as if nothing was going wrong. He rushes to various groups screaming and yelling at his past but collapses and cries out for Phyllis. Reality returns and, back in the now half demolished crumbling theatre, Buddy slowly helps Sally off while Phyllis strongly helps Ben to regain his dignity before they leave. Their counterparts, who have watched the scene from the shadows, come into the light and the young men call softly to the young girls as the Follies finally come to an end.
Cut Songs and Revisions
Songs cut from this show include: ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL, CAN THAT BOY FOXTROT! and UPTOWN DOWNTOWN. The musical numbers AH, BUT UNDERNEATH (replacing THE STORY OF LUCY AND JESSIE), COUNTRY HOUSE, MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR MUSIC (replacing LIVE, LAUGH, LOVE), SOCIAL DANCING and a new version of LOVELAND have been incorporated into various productions of the show. Major changes were affected for the original production in London, which unfortunately attempted to establish a lighter tone and favoured a happier ending than the original. The most recent productions in New York have reverted to some of the original narrative points, whilst making other changes that subvert the dark brilliance of the original book.
Purchases from Amazon.com
FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: 1. Follies 1971 Original Broadway Cast CD. 2. Follies 1985 NYC Concert Cast CD. 3. Follies 1987 London Revival Cast CD. 4. Follies 1998 New Jersey Papermill Cast. 5. The Stephen Sondheim Album, with songs from Follies.
FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: 1. Follies in Concert DVD. 2. Everything Was Possible : The Birth of the Musical Follies Making of the Musical Book. 3. Follies Script. 4. Follies Vocal Score. 5. The Complete Follies Collection Vocal Score.