PULP: Arts Around Ann Arbor
“Theatre Nova has chosen, appropriately, a showbiz musical as a fund-raiser for the innovative professional theater that specializes in new plays and new playwrights. This play isn’t new nor are the writers, but the show-business environment and its emotional ups and downs are perfect for reminding theater-goers why live theater matters. The concert version strips away the backstories on the other showgirls but leaves room for spotlight performances of the songs. Brian E. Buckner is the music director and also a one-man band on keyboard. He’s excellent and gives some sensitive and tasteful accompaniment. It works well in Theatre Nova’s small space. Diane Hill plays the acerbic Phyllis. She confronts Ben when he asks for a divorce with the teasing and biting “Could I Leave You.” Hill bites into every word to make clear her disdain but also her mixed emotions. Sue Booth plays Sally. She has two standout moments. But the real heart grabber is “Losing My Mind,” a bitter take on unrequited and foolish love. Booth’s voice cracks with emotion as the song comes to an end. Roy Sexton is outstanding as Buddy. He has some of the most complex songs exploring the most complex emotions. His takes on “The Right Girl” and “Buddy’s Blues” are vocally strong and emotionally engaging as he conjures up a dialogue with his girlfriend while still yearning for the love of his wife.
THEATRE NOVA PRESENTS A LIMITED ENGAGEMENT OF
Follies (Concert Version)
Book by JAMES GOLDMAN
Music and Lyrics by STEPHEN SONDHEIM
Nov. 7 through Nov.17, 2019
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm
Sundays at 2pm
Sondheim’s Broadway smash-hit musical concerns a reunion in a crumbling Broadway theatre of the past performers of the “Weismann’s Follies” that played in that theatre between the World Wars. Presented in concert, Follies is a glamorous and fascinating peek into a bygone era, and a clear-eyed look at the transformation of relationships over time, with countless songs that have become standards, including “Broadway Baby,” “I’m Still Here,” “Too Many Mornings”, “Could I Leave You?” and “Losing My Mind.”
Directed by Diane Hill, with music direction by Brian E. Buckner, “Follies in Concert” features Sue Booth, Thomas Murphy, Diane Hill, Roy Sexton, Annie Kordas, Kryssy Becker, Eddie Rothermel, Connor Rhoades, Harold Jurkiewicz, Olive Hayden-Moore, Carrie Jay Sayer, Emily Rogers-Driskill, Gayle Martin, and Edith Lewis. The production and design team includes Monica Spencer (scenic design), Jeff Alder (lighting design), and Briana O’Neal (stage manager).
“Follies’ premise is challenging to stage for any theater because of the intermingling of time, but Theatre Nova carries it off. The concert of the Sondheim music with flourishes of dramatic action reveals the lives of four main characters: the self-loathing Ben, the lonely Phyllis, the rejected Buddy, and the disillusioned Sally. Brian E. Buckner (multiple Wilde Award winner) music directs on an electric keyboard. Buckner is able to cast the musical footprint in the show of a three-piece combo. When all 14 cast members — plus Buckner — are on the tiny stage at once, the theatre can feel very intimate indeed. Dramatic highlights of this show are “Losing My Mind,” a solo performed by Sue Booth, as Sally, and “Live, Laugh, Love” by Thomas Murphy, as Ben, and the ensemble. Comic highlights are the rollicking “Buddy’s Blues” by Roy Sexton as the sad-sack traveling salesman Buddy Plummer, and “I’m Still Here,” performed by Olive Hayden-Moore as Follies veteran Carlotta. Diane Hill, who directs the play and co-stars as Phyllis Rogers Stone, also performs two of Follies’ funniest songs, “Could I Leave You” and “Lucy and Jessie” with spot-on comic timing. This production of Follies In Concert may not be the grand ode to the golden age of Ziegfeld for which Sondheim was aiming, but seeing it, and taking in the marvelous tunes acted out is a fun night out that will help support a creative local theatre that has been a font of exciting new plays since its opening.