Follies is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by James Goldman.
Follies is set in a crumbling old Broadway theatre, scheduled for demolition, during a reunion for all the past members of the "Weismann’s Follies"; a musical revue (based on the Ziegfeld Follies) which played in that theatre between the World Wars. The musical mostly focuses on two couples, Buddy and Sally Durant Plummer and Ben and Phyllis Rogers Stone, who are attending the reunion. Sally and Phyllis were both showgirls in the Follies as are many of the other guests. Both marriages are having problems because Buddy, a traveling salesman, is having an affair with a girl on the road, Sally is still in love with Ben as she was years ago, and Ben is so self-absorbed that Phyllis feels emotionally abandoned.
The two couples interact with each other and other partygoers, and throughout the first half, musical numbers from the old Follies are performed by the characters, sometimes accompanied by the ghosts of their former selves. These songs are pastiches of songs by popular songwriters of the past. The second half contains a string of vaudeville-style numbers reflecting the characters' own problems and joys, before returning to the theatre for the end of the reunion party.
Original production and revivals
Follies opened on April 4, 1971 at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway. It starred Alexis Smith, John McMartin, Dorothy Collins, Gene Nelson, and Yvonne De Carlo, along with several veterans of the Broadway and vaudeville stage.
The plum supporting role of Carlotta Campion, the world-weary ex-Follies girl who sings the showstopping "I'm Still Here," is usually performed by a once-celebrated performer making a final return to the stage. Yvonne De Carlo created the role in 1971. The 1985 concert featured Carol Burnett in the role, and Dolores Gray played Carlotta in the 1987 London production, which also featured Diana Rigg, Daniel Massey, Julia McKenzie, Lynda Baron, Leonard Sachs, Maria Charles, Pearl Carr & Teddy Johnson. The 1998 Paper Mill Playhouse revival featured the legendary MGM star Ann Miller in the role or Carlotta. Shortly thereafter another former MGM star, Betty Garrett, played the role of Hattie in the short-lived 2001 Broadway revival, which also starred Blythe Danner, Judith Ivey, Treat Williams, Gregory Harrison, Polly Bergen and an assortment of famous names from the past. It was significantly stripped down (previous productions, especially the original, were most notable for their extravagant sets and costumes) and was not a success critically or financially.
The musical has undergone numerous revisions over the years. The initial production was praised in many areas but the book and dialogue were judged to be lacking; Goldman subsequently revised his work right up to his death, which occurred shortly before the 1998 Paper Mill production. Sondheim too has added and removed songs that he judged to be problematic in various productions. The 1987 London production was significantly changed, and was, in the opinion of critics who saw it in New York (such as Frank Rich), substantially more "upbeat" and lacking in the atmosphere it had originally possessed.
Follies was voted ninth in a BBC Radio 2 listener poll of the UK's "Nation's Number One Essential Musicals".