PLAYBILL.COM’S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 10-16: The Follies of 2007

News   PLAYBILL.COM’S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 10-16: The Follies of 2007 Is there any musical that brings out the obsessive in the theatre person, professional and layman, like Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman's Follies?
Donna Murphy in the Encores! production of Follies.
Donna Murphy in the Encores! production of Follies. Photo by Joan Marcus

The mythical aura that now surrounds the lavish original production, with its sets by Boris Aronson and costumes by Florenze Klotz; the lionizing of each and every song in the score over the years; the legendary, two-night 1985 concert staging at Lincoln Center, which was preserved on disc; Ted Chapin's 2003 book "Everything Was Possible," detailing the minutiae of the show's creation—all these have contributed to transforming Follies from just a very good, very ambitious show to an eternally analyzed, hallowed landmark in the history of musical theatre.

Now adding a further layer of hyperbolic gloss to the legend is the Encores! concert presentation of the 1971 musical, which ended on Feb. 12. It lasted only six performances. But from the lengths of the threads in the chat rooms and the deafening volume of the buzz, you'd think it was the only show in town. Reviews cheered as fairly flawless the production directed by Casey Nicholaw and starring Donna Murphy Victoria Clark, Victor Garber and Michael McGrath, while leaving room to emphasize how difficult it was to get the multi-layered, time-traveling, pastiche-trafficking, reality-juggling meta-musical right. Ben Brantley's comment that the show was perpetually "misunderstood"—as if it was a troubled teenager or something—was typical of the proprietary note many of the reviewers struck.

The reaction was such that talk of a transfer to Broadway began almost immediately, in a way it hasn't since Encores! did Chicago. Fran and Barry Weissler, the producers of Chicago, are reported to be the most interested parties, but others are supposedly circling the project. All this, despite the fact that the knock of any new Follies these days is that the musical's grand concept is now too expensive to produce on a commercial scale. A limited run, such as they now do for "prestige" play revivals, might be the answer. But the contracting of the sterling cast at Encores! would seem paramount, and Murphy is already tied up with spring's LoveMusik.

If it does get done, the producer and creative team better be prepared for a new cycle of hullabaloo. With all the wild expectations surrounding any new production of Follies, Hamlet's an easier mountain to scale.

*** Speaking of the Weisslers and Chicago, the latest casting coup being hatched over at the Ambassador is to place nearly disgraced Miss USA Tara Conner in the role of Roxie Hart. The New York Post reported that Conner is being put through the paces to see if she can pass muster in the Broadway production. Conner made some unwelcome headlines by showing she could teach Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton a little something about how to hit the nightclubs hard. For this, she almost lost her crown, but was given a second chance and a trip to rehab by pageant queenmaker Donald Trump. Perhaps, if Conner is cast, Trump could play slick legal eagle Billy Flynn. He already plays a version of him in real life.

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London news. The Royal National Theatre has announced its new season. Among the highlights: Ian Rickson will direct a revival of Pinter's The Hothouse; Simon Russell Beale will be paired with Zoë Wannamaker as a long-in-the-tooth Benedick and Beatrice in a Nicholas Hytner-directed production of Much Ado About Nothing; and A Matter of Life and Death, an adaptation by Tom Morris and Emma Rice (who also directs) of a 1946 about a British World War II pilot who survives being shot down because of an angel's oversight.

Meanwhile, Tom Stoppard continued to ride high. His London play Rock 'N' Roll will arrive on Broadway in the fall. Variety reports that the play — to be directed by Trevor Nunn — will be produced on Broadway by Sonia Friedman and Boyett Ostar productions. The latter is responsible for the London-to-New York transfers of The History Boys and the forthcoming Coram Boy.

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In other tidbits, John Glover will replace Bob Martin as Man in Chair in The Drowsy Chaperone; Christopher Durang and Peter Melnick's film noir spoof Adrift in Macao opened Off-Broadway Feb. 13 to lukewarm reviews; and, according to the Post, Adam Geuttel and William Goldman will not be collaborating on a musical version of Goldman's film "The Princess Bride." That's the way things go. As Goldman wrote in his book-length appraisal of the industry, "The Season," in the making of a musical "there's a certain amount of blood involved." He also wrote, undoubtedly thinking of himself, that bookwriters "suffer. That's their job." Well, as long as he's doing his job, that's OK then.

(Robert Simonson is Playbill.com's senior correspondent. Reach him at rsimonson@playbill.com.)

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