Onstage: Review: Follies

Sondheim musical is haunted by old loves and new paths

The Follies in Stephen Sondheim's 1971 musical are numerous. A reunion of performers from a Broadway revue (resembling the legendary "Ziegfeld Follies") three decades after their final performance is the premise. But we also explore the "follies" of human relationships, torches held long after a flame has died and relationships run aground despite good intentions. Follies requires a big, multi-generational cast, a sophisticated orchestra and tons of costumes.

Lucky for us, Cincinnati Music Theatre and director Joe Stollenwerk have taken up the challenge and met it with style.

It's the story of two couples, friends as young performers 30 years earlier. Charming intellectual Ben (Rick Kramer) married the now icy-cold Phyllis (Laurie Brinkman), while anxious Buddy (Joe Hornbaker) ended up with over-eager Sally (Catherine Ross), who secretly loved Ben. Returning to New York for a reunion in the decrepit theater where they once performed (on the eve of its destruction), the quartet's old feelings resurface, amplified by middle-aged anxieties.

Amid other reminiscing reunion guests, all are shadowed by ghosts of their former selves in glamorous, glorious costumes designed by Elaine K. Michael. Follies conjures up the glitzy past but tempers it with a harsher, modern light. It's a fine show for a community theater because it requires a range of older and younger performers. They must stand up to Sondheim's daunting score, and this cast does, accompanied by music director Dave Abbott and a topnotch onstage orchestra of 19 musicians.

The leads shine in signature numbers — especially Brinkman's caustic "Could I Leave You?" and Hornbaker's anxiety-ridden "Buddy's Blues." There are also standout performances by Maria Kreppel singing "Broadway Baby," by Kim Wessendarp leading the production number "Who's That Woman?" and especially by Deana Rae Tully lustily rendering "I'm Still Here." Follies is a bleak tale, but ultimately rays of hope shine through. Grade: A-

FOLLIES, presented by Cincinnati Music Theatre at the Jarson-Kaplan Theater, continues through Saturday.