The original cast starred Dorothy Collins, John McMartin, Alexis Smith and Gene Nelson. Graciela Daniele was featured as Young Vanessa, and Dick Latessa understudied the role of Buddy.
The production's reception was mixed to negative. In New York Times reviews, Walter Kerr deemed the show "intermissionless and exhausting, an extravaganza that becomes tedious." Clive Barnes praised Sondheim's lyrics but panned the music: "The man is a Hart in search of a Rodgers," he wrote.
The musical fared better at the 1972 Tonys, winning 7 of its 11 nominations. Alexis Smith won for her performance as Phyllis, Stephen Sondheim won for his score, and Harold Prince and Michael Bennett shared a Tony for their direction. Follies was a nominee for Best Musical alongside the popular Grease; they were defeated by Galt MacDermot and John Guare's musicalized Two Gentlemen of Verona.
When Follies closed after 522 performances, Variety reported a "total financial loss" of nearly $800,000. But the musical's popularity has flourished in the intervening years and returned to Broadway in Tony-nominated revivals in 2001 and 2011.