Chicago Follies, With Brent Barrett, Caroline O'Connor, Susan Moniz and Robert Petkoff, Begins Oct. 4
By Kenneth Jones
You might think of it as "the other" Follies this season. If the Kennedy Center's revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman's musical about a showbiz reunion hadn't transferred to Broadway, the new production by Chicago Shakespeare Theater, starting Oct. 4, might have been more present in our imaginations.
Nevertheless, the Windy City revival of the Tony Award-winning musical at the Tony Award-winning resident theatre on Navy Pier is a true regional theatre Event for its sheer ambition: director Gary Griffin's production on the thrust stage of CST's Courtyard Theater features a trio of Broadway stars (Robert Petkoff as Buddy, Caroline O'Connor as Phyllis, Brent Barrett as Ben), a wide swath of Chicago stars who have worked in productions together for the past 25 years (Susan Moniz as Sally, Hollis Resnik as Carlotta, Mike Nussbaum as Weismann, Kathy Taylor as Solange), a total company of 40 performers and musicians. The staging represents CST associate artistic director Griffin's continuing CST exploration of the works of composer-lyricist Sondheim following productions of Pacific Overtures (which won the Olivier Award when it played London's Donmar Warehouse) and A Little Night Music, Sunday in the Park with George and Passion.
Follies continues to Nov. 6. Griffin directed Broadway's The Apple Tree and The Color Purple, as well as Encores! concerts in Manhattan and Stratford Shakespeare Festival productions of Evita, Camelot and West Side Story in Ontario.
Barrett (who plays successful lawyer Ben, a former Stage Door Johnny who married Phyllis) starred in the London premiere of the Tony Award-winning revival of Kiss Me, Kate (Olivier Award nomination) and has also performed the roles of Billy Flynn in Chicago and Baron Felix Von Gaigern in Grand Hotel on Broadway. He appeared as Hannibal Lecter in the Off-Broadway musical spoof Silence! prior to Follies.
British-born O'Connor (who plays Phyllis) recently completed a critically acclaimed turn as Mrs. Lovett in Sondheim's Sweeney Todd at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. She was Olivier Award-nominated for both her starring role in Mack & Mabel in London's West End (heard in a recording) and her one-woman play Bombshells (Fringe First Award, Edinburgh Festival Fringe). She made her Broadway debut as Velma Kelly in Chicago.
Petkoff (who plays former Stage Door Johnny Buddy, who married Sally, who has carried a torch for Ben for 30 years) returns to Chicago Shakespeare, where he played George in Sunday in the Park with George and the title roles in Hamlet and Troilus and Cressida. His Broadway credits include Fiddler on the Roof, Spamalot and Ragtime, and he appeared in The Royal Family in London's West End under the direction of Sir Peter Hall.
Chicago musical theatre star Moniz (who plays Sally) last appeared at CST in The Merchant of Venice, and performed on Broadway as both Sandy and Rizzo in Grease. She is an eight-time Jeff nominee, winning for playing ingénue Marsinah in Kismet. She starred in the TV production of Romance/Romance, seen on A&E, and recently appeared in Griffin's The Merry Widow for Lyric Opera of Chicago. Her credits include Maria in West Side Story and Julie Jordan in Carousel.
Follies explores the memories, aches and distant show tunes of a collection of former Broadway revue stars (and showgirls) at a reunion commemorating the demolition of the Broadway theatre they once played. The show won 1972 Tony Awards for Best Score, Direction, Choreography and Scenic, Costume and Lighting Design. It nominated for Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical. Alexis Smith won a Tony as Best Actress in a Musical.
Two couples — Ben and Phyllis and Buddy and Sally — emerge from the crowd and struggle to alternately hold onto or shed their illusions, build their futures and exorcise their demons.
The score, music-directed by Broadway's Brad Haak, includes "Beautiful Girls," "I'm Still Here," "Losing My Mind," "Waiting for the Girls Upstairs," "Could I Leave You?," "The Road You Didn't Take," "In Buddy's Eyes" and "Broadway Baby," among others.
Multiple Jeff Award winner Resnik plays Carlotta Campion, a "follies" vet and movie star, who sings "I'm Still Here"; Chicago acting icon Nussbaum (American Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross) plays faded impresario Dmitri Weismann; Nancy Voigts plays Stella Deems; Marilynn Bogetich plays Hattie Walker; Kathy Taylor plays Solange LaFitte; Chicago husband and wife duo Dennis Kelly and Ami Silvestre play dance team Theodore and Emily Whitman; and Linda Stephens (Wings at the Goodman and Off-Broadway, and Meg in Broadway's most recent Damn Yankees ) makes her CST debut as Viennese soprano Heidi Schiller.
The cast for Follies also includes Adrian Aguilar as Young Ben, Bill Chamberlain as Roscoe, Rachel Cantor as Young Phyllis, L.R. Davidson as Young Sally, David Elliott as Max Deems, Andrew Keltz as Young Buddy, Amanda Kroiss as Young Solange, Christina Myers as Young Stella, Kari Sorenson as Young Heidi, Amanda Tanguay as Young Carlotta, showgirls Jen Donohoo and Jenny Guse, and ensemble members Devin Archer, Julius C. Carter, Rhett Guter, Nate Lewellyn and Tanner Smale.
Griffin told Playbill.com that decades of shared history of the resident Chicago performers helped to feed the energy of the production.
"When you live in Follies, by nature, you sort of start to consider your past — where you come from, what happened to you," Griffin said. "All of that was sort of in the [rehearsal] room and, actually, I think it's been important for us to let that happen. We all remember when we were young beginners. I think [the older cast members] are all looking at the younger generation and realizing, 'Wow, it wasn't that long ago that was us.'"
For the record, CST is using the same script and score that are being heard on Broadway. Following the original Broadway production, there were several variant scripts (London, the 2001 Broadway revival etc.), but the authors have now agreed on a licensable bible version.
"There are not many productions right now," Griffin said. "They were very limiting in terms of who they were going to grant any rights to while this production was happening at Kennedy Center and Broadway, but what they did say was…that was the version they wanted us to present and that's what we're presenting."
The creative team for Follies includes scenic designer Kevin Depinet, costume designer Virgil Johnson, lighting designer Christine Binder, choreographer Alex Sanchez, sound designers Joshua Horvath and Ray Nardelli, wig and makeup designer Melissa Veal and properties master Chelsea Meyers.
For tickets and information, call (312) 595-5600 or visit www.chicagoshakes.com.
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