Follies

by Mary Alderson

Follies in Concert was not Folly

Richard Ouzounian tried to bring Follies to Toronto last year, but the pandemic put the kybosh on that plan. So 2021 become the new plan, and Ouzounian was successful. He gathered a stellar cast with an amazing orchestra and Follies became a fundraising gala for Koerner Hall and the Royal Conservatory of Music.

And what a show it was! With a 24 piece orchestra and 18 singers, the star power pulled in the audience. Fortunately, the Covid limits were raised just before the show opened, and more tickets became available.

Follies is one of Sondheim’s greats. In typical Sondheim style, he has woven heart breaking lyrics around a fascinating plot. Follies tells the story of a reunion of sorts. It’s 1971, and the theatre that housed the great follies shows is being torn down. So all the showgirls and comedians who were part of the follies in the years between the two world wars (1918 to 1941) are coming together to talk about old times and kiss the theatre goodbye. Think Barbra Streisand as Fannie Brice in Funny Girl and you get the idea of a follies show.

Showgirls of all ages show up at the reunion, some much older, and some younger, still in their 50s. Two of them, Sally (Ma-Anne Dionisio) and Phyllis (Cynthia Dale) bring along their husbands, Buddy (Eric McCormack) and Ben (Marcus Nance). They were roommates during their follies days and their husbands were friends. We get to know more about them as the evening progresses, particularly when we hear from the ghosts of their younger selves. Young Sally (Kimberly-Ann Truong), Young Phyllis (Tess Benger), Young Buddy (Gabe Antonacci) and Young Ben (Andrew Broderick) cause the glorious veneer to peel off their older personas. The four characters unravel before our eyes in gut wrenching songs.

Cynthia Dale was stunning in red, and danced like a dream. Her rendition of “Could I Leave You” showed such strength that we wondered why she stayed with him at all.

Ma-Anne Dionisio was perfect as the depressed housewife and her rendition of “Losing My Mind” was heart rending. Her delivery of “You said you loved me, or were you just being kind? Or am I losing my mind?” was unbearably sad.

It was a thrill for any fans of Will & Grace to see Eric McCormack perform live. He created comic relief with puppets of his wife and mistress when he sang “Buddy’s Blues”, creating the two female voices, in addition to Buddy’s, perfectly.

Marcus Nance’s rich voice was wonderful to hear. He sang “Live Laugh Love” and convinced us of Ben’s complete undoing.  

Charlotte Moore’s rendition of “I’m still here” was perfect. The song offers a history lesson about what was happening in the world over a showgirl’s long career, and here she is, still standing. Moore actually brought the house down, in light of today’s world, with the line “I got through all of last year, and I’m here”.

The rest of the brilliant cast each had their glorious moment in the spotlight and every character was wonderful.

Unfortunately, I can’t encourage you to see Follies in Concert: I would love to, but it has already closed. However, if you haven’t been to Koerner Hall, I can encourage you to go there. It is an amazing theatre, with perfect acoustics. Opening in 2009, Koerner Hall has been called Canada’s Carnegie Hall.  

Photo: Koerner Hall file photo.

Disclaimer: In the interest of full disclosure, the writer reports that her son, Thomas Alderson was the Assistant Director of this production.
Full disclosure? or just a proud mom?

Follies – In Concert
Book by James Goldman
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Richard Ouzounian
Assistant Director Thomas Alderson
Musical Director Paul Sportelli
Choreography by Genny Sermonia-Gomez
Performed by Cynthia Dale, Ma-Anne Dionisio, Eric McCormack, Marcus Nance, Jenni Burke, Mary Lou Fallis, Denise Fergusson, Lorrain Foreman, Ben Heppner, Roger Honeywell, Charlotte Moore, Jackie Richardson, Avery Saltzman, Gabriel Antonacci, Tess Benger, Katelyn Bird, Andrew Broderick, Kimberly-Ann Truong. 
Koerner Hall, Royal Conservatory of Music, Bloor St. W., Toronto
October 16, 17, 2021
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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