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Follies, with its marvelous songs by Stephen Sondheim and its brilliant book by James Goldman, is a masterpiece of musical theater. In the expert hands of director and costume designer John C. McIlwee, assistant director Katherine Fuller, choreographer Cindy Hoban, musical director Julie A. Florin, set designer Crawford "Corky" Pratt, lighting designer Terri L. Janney, and sound designer Kevin Wright, the current University Theatre at N.C. State community theater/collegiate presentation of this rarely produced 1971 Broadway musical is this summer's best musical.
McIlwee's staging is simply inspired as he elicits bravura performances from all of his principals and crisp characterizations from his youthful supporting cast, and the absolutely dazzling costumes that he has created for this bittersweet tribute to the aging showgirls of the 1920s, '30s, and '40s are simply magnificent. (The glad rags for the showgirls' 1971 reunion shimmer and sparkle, and the peacock-proud fantastic costumes for the ghostly Weismann girls of long ago simply have to be seen to be believed.)
Choreographer Cindy Hoban adds dynamic dance routines; and musical director Julie Florin and a select orchestra (Katie Beaver, violin; Mitch Butler, trombone; Gregory Dixon, piano; Amanda Giggard, flute; Mark Gloden, clarinet/saxophone; Bobby Hinson, trumpet; Nic Slaton, bass; Shirazette Tinnin, drums; and Karen Zeher, saxophone) put a fine polish on the many musical gems in this superlative score, such as "Beautiful Girls," "Broadway Baby," "I'm Still Here," and "Losing My Mind."
Corky Pratt's imaginative set, which depicts the dilapidated Weisman Theatre on the eve of its demolition (to make way for a parking lot!), is superb; Terri Janney's artful illumination of the present-day contretemps and the show's poignant flashbacks, often employing onstage lighting instruments, is terrific; and Kevin Wright's sound design likewise enhances his stellar production.
UT acting coach Fred Gorelick is a peach as roly-poly Buddy Plummer, a traveling salesman with a wandering eye and a not-so-secret girlfriend name Margie (Lauren-Kelly Devine) in Dallas. JoAnne Dickinson, dressed in selected couture gowns by Alfred Fiandaca, is poignant as Buddy's unhappy wife, former showgirl Sally Durant Plummer, who still carries a torch for Buddy's feckless best friend, Benjamin Stone (N. Alexander Miller III) — a big torch! Ben was and is a serial adulterer, which is a constant thorn in the side of his long-suffering wife, former showgirl Phyllis Rogers Stone (Sara Schrock). Miller is thoroughly hissable as a cad's cad, and Schrock is great as the fed-up wife who is mad as hell and not going to take it any more.
The four young performers — Katherine Anderson (Phyllis), John C. Arnold (Buddy), Margaret-Ellen Shouse (Sally), and Bradley Smoak (Ben) — who play the younger versions of these mismatched lovers in the show's flashback scenes also acquit themselves well.
Yolanda Batts ("Who's That Woman"), Dorothy R. Brown ("I'm Still Here"), Janis K. Coville ("Broadway Baby"), Robert Sinclair Galbraith of The Opera Company of North Carolina ("Beautiful Girls"), and Margaret Webb ("Ah, Paris!") all have star turns that they turn into showstoppers; and vocals by JoAnne Dickinson ("Losing My Mind") and Sara Schrock ("Could I Leave You") also number among the show's musical highlights.
Yolanda Batts and Dorothy Brown are also scene-stealers, with their cheeky performances as Stella Deems and Carlotta Campion, respectively. They are just two more reasons to see Follies, which may well be University Theatre at N.C. State's finest musical-theater presentation to date.
Second Opinion: Aug. 14th News & Observer review by correspondent Roy C. Dicks: http://www.triangle.com/calendar/theaterreview/story/1527796p-7702863c.html.
University Theatre at N.C. State presents Follies Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 19-21, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 22, at 3 p.m. in Stewart Theatre on the second floor of NCSU's Talley Student Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. $12-$16 ($6 NCSU students). 919/515-1100. University Theatre at N.C. State: http://www.ncsu.edu/theatre/0405/follies.htm. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=3638. Sondheim.com: http://www.sondheim.com/shows/follies/.