Magazine article Dance Magazine

Follies: Ghosts of Dancers Past and Future

Magazine article Dance Magazine

Follies: Ghosts of Dancers Past and Future

Article excerpt

There are ghosts haunting the Belasco Theatre, where Stephen Sondheim's legendary musical Follies has been revived by the Roundabout--and I don't mean the shadowy showgirls in pale, shimmering violet who seem to ooze from the blackness of the backstage setting.

Nor am I talking about David Belasco, who, in one of Broadway's more endearing legends, is said to be still hanging around his old upstairs office.

I'm not even thinking of the ghost of my younger self, the one who saw Follies in 1971 and identified with the young dreamers in the show's flashbacks rather than with their older, sadder incarnations, who seem so much more comprehensible to me now.

No, the ghosts that struck me with such force as I watched the show this time around were in the dancing. Any revival must contend with the specter of the original. But there are originals of originals of originals in this story of a group of follies performers who stage a reunion at the now-decrepit theater where they had all once glittered, only to be joined onstage by their youthful doubles and their dashed hopes.

Follies uses the vocabulary of the Broadway revues of George White and Florenz Ziegfeld, which dominated American musical theater between the two world wars, to make rueful comparisons between youth and maturity, desire and disappointment. And just as the show, which was conceived by Harold Prince, layers the past with the present, choreographers who staged the elaborate numbers of those old revues--Russell Markert, Jack Cole, even Michel Fokine and Balanchine--hover over the pastiches in Follies. Then there's the ghost of Michael Bennett, who choreographed and co-directed the original production. And as if they were not company enough for any choreographer, here come octogenarians Marge Champion and Donald Saddler, to dance the featured adagio.

"It's a little intimidating to know that you're choreographing for a two-time Tony-winning choreographer like Donald Saddler and a living legend like Marge Champion," says Kathleen Marshall, who, when you get right down to it, doesn't sound all that intimidated. "But they were so great--they have that wonderful dancer's discipline that never goes away. They were very respectful, and I considered it a great compliment when after we'd work on something they'd say, `This feels right.'"

If the old pros presented her with one set of worries, there were neophytes to present another. The show's ghostly versions of the young characters are all played by performers with dance training. But most of the older members of the cast--headed by Blythe Danner, Gregory Harrison, Judith Ivey, and Treat Williams--came without the pedigree of Champion and Saddler. "It was a challenge to choreograph for the age ranges and ability ranges in this show," she says. …

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