Reinventing the past is futile as two miserably unhappy couples discover in Follies, a bubbly champagne musical about middle-aged disenchantment.
Follies has sustained numerous revivals through the past 45 years, and now director Barbara Mah is at the helm of Walterdale Theatre’s version running until Saturday, July 15.
Set in New York’s parallel worlds of 1941 and 1971, it explores the Ziegfeld era of chorus girls and vaudeville. But the musical is more than a pretty parade of glittering chorus girls. It dares to destroy the hackneyed idea of “and they lived happily ever after.”
Follies focuses on two female starlets now locked in dead-end marriages to their once backstage admirers. In this bittersweet affair, the ghosts of their more youthful selves also haunt the stage.
With its themes of optimistic youthful idealism played next to embittered middle-age regrets, Follies is a skilful blend of nostalgia and clear-eyed cynicism.
The musical, with lyrics and music by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Goldman, is also underpinned with a gem-packed score.
Follies takes place in an old decaying theatre a day before the building meets the wrecking ball paving the way for a parking lot. The Weismann girls plus one are invited for a last blast, and they arrive decked in long gowns and sparkling jewelry.
They are saying goodbye to a vanished show business tradition, but also the impossible myth of love and happiness that has distorted their lives for three decades.
As the party starts rocking, the ghost of their younger selves appear bursting with hope and promise – a sharp contrast to the older, more jaded versions.
In a way, it’s a bit like attending an Irish wake – plenty of drinks, tall stories, drama and the realization that our ghosts never fully disappear.
Monica Roberts is perfect as the foxy, yet snappish and ultra-urbane Phyllis, a woman who married the ambitious Ben (Gavin Belik), a handsome politician turned savvy businessman.
However, Ben’s intense commitment to his career leaves her alone and angry while his success and power leaves him feeling like a fraud.
Sally (Leslie Caffaro), on the other hand, is the radiant gal who fell for Ben, but was spurned. In a rebound she married Buddy, a genial salesman, but continues nursing a torch for the lover that got away.
Buddy (Dustin Berube) believes he lives a cursed life. Sally is the love of his life, yet no matter what he does it’s never good enough for her. Tensions rise when Sally and Ben rekindle their relationship.
As Phyllis endures the weight of a disintegrating marriage, Roberts ups her game and creates a special moment in Could I Leave You. It’s the power song of woman in a wounded rage belting out her anthem of independence with a ferocity that reveals the full force of Phyllis’ imploding emotions.
Gavin Belik plays Ben as a rigid skeleton throughout. However in the second act’s Live, Love, Laugh, a poignant confessional song, Belik relaxes and reveals Ben’s vulnerabilities and his fears – a feat that opens up a new dimension for the character.
Leslie Caffaro imbues Sally with an ethereal quality even as Sally desperately attempts to turn her far-fetched fantasy into an impossible reality. And Dustin Berube has a knack for getting across Buddy’s sorrow yet maintaining a strong inner core.
As the old troupers recreate showstoppers from past eras, several performances stood out. Kärin Thomas delivers a sassy belt of Broadway Baby while Joyanne Rudiak snaps out an energetic flamboyant tapper in Who’s That Woman.
And Kristen M. Finlay as Carlotta Campion brought the house down in her rendition of I’m Still Here, an upbeat testament to the resilience of Follies girls.
St. Albert actress Veronica Masik, as the young Phyllis uses her triple threat acting chops to create a sweet, loving girl who offsets the dramatic trajectory of her older version.
Another St. Albert actor, Christina O’Dell, takes on the role young Heidi. Together with Erin Foster-Riordan as older Heidi, the two harmonize One More Kiss, a striking piece demanding a classically trained operatic voice. It provided a scintillating contrast between Foster-Riordan’s mature voice and O’Dell’s sparkling coloratura as the younger self.
This is community theatre with a wide variety of experiences and talents, however all the actors go for broke. At the end you realize, they’ve made beautiful music from all of life’s contradictions.
Runs until Saturday, July 15
9930 – 102 Ave.
Tickets: $18 to $20 Call 780-420-1757 or at tixonthesquare.ca