Based on the 1971 book by James Goldman and music from Stephen Sondheim, Follies tells the story of a reunion of two women and their husbands, set in the early 1970s in a dilapidated New York theatre about to be torn down. The two middle age couples (Sally and Buddy and Phyllis and Ben) dive into the shadows of their younger selves, the theatre’s eventual demise serving as a catalyst for self-reflection.
Follies explores the question that begs to be asked at some point in our lives, usually in later years when the choices we’ve made have solidified us on a path with seemingly no alternate routes; the question of “What if?” Through both music and dialogue, Follies attempts to understand the way complexity of choice and how we view our lives ultimately changes over time.
Central to this theme is Phyllis Follie’s character. Played by Monica Roberts, Phyllis is a woman who’s become cold over the years, a far cry from the emotionally available spirit she was in her youth.
“Phyllis’ character has an interesting journey,” says Roberts. “Over the course of 30 years and looking back, she finds she’s become a marble, stone-like woman, different from the woman she’s told she once was. The theatre serves to break down that hard exterior.”
Infinitely layered, Follies goes beyond just the question of ‘what if,’ tackling the very idea that as life unfolds, our picture of what the future will look like inexplicably changes, and with it, so do we.
“These women were born in the ’30s; they lived through the Second World War, and then came to adulthood in the ’50s and ’60s,” says Roberts. “They had a fixed idea of what an ideal wife and woman should look like … What life should look like.”
As the story unfolds, the two couples watch as their memories collide with the reality of their lives. In the end, the couples are brought to a point where, in order to move on, they must first reconcile the past and face the choices they’ve made along the way.
Follies, directed and choreographed by Barbara Mah, is considered by many to be a cult classic. With the inherent nature of its subject matter being so relatable, it’s not hard to see why it has enjoyed so much success. In its original Broadway production, Follies was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and won seven, including best original score. Mah herself has won more than two dozen musical theatre credits, either as director or choreographer (or both).
“This show is a case of life imitating art for me,” Mah says. “Thirty years ago, I was a young dancer who just discovered musical theatre and was actually involved in a workshop production of Follies. Like the young performers depicted in this show, everything was open. There were no limits. Thirty years later, I look back at the path I have forged through life and reflect on my choices and consequences.”
It is this first-hand experience with the question of choice that lends Mah so naturally to the roll.
“It’s allowed me to showcase the characters in all their complexity, their beauty, and their follies,” she says.
Wed., July 5 – Sat., July 15
Walterdale Theatre, $18 – $20
*NOTE: The print version of this story has the incorrect ticket price. This is the correct price.