Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Classy Follies In Elm Grove

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Theater loves theater. Sometimes when theater loves theater onstage in the company of an audience, it can be a beautiful thing. This is the case with Soulstice Theatre’s production of Follies. Stephen Sondheim’s tribute  to love, life and the stage makes a graceful appearance in St. Francis this month. It’s a tribute to an earlier era of stage performance. Sondheim’s classy tribute to the Ziegfeld Follies has a group of returning to the stage one more time before it is torn down.

 

Aside from having very catchy music characteristic of Stephen Sondheim in the early 1970s, the show is another opportunity to explore the lives of those who have given so much to the stage over the years. In the intimacy of the Keith Tamsett Theatre, the overall party atmosphere feels very, very genuine. Director Jillian Smith does a great job orchestrating the crowd scenes. The stage seems to be positively dripping with interesting people. The flow of attention across the stage in those crowd shots feels graceful and natural. Notables seen from a distance in the crowd include the cool confidence of Marcee Doherty-Elst and Amanda Hull, who brings a really stylishly idiosyncratic in the role of a performer who appears to be at least three times her age.

 

The center of the drama focuses itself around a couple of couples who met at the Follies. The four people in question are played by four really charming actors who have no trouble rendering many layers of complexity even when the flow of the show requires singing and dancing. Liz Norton summons considerable strength with just the right shadow of vulnerability in the role of the fiercely dynamic Phyllis. Laura Monagle summons considerable vulnerability with just the right shadow of strength in the role of the dream-sick Sally. David Ferrie cuts a dapper kind of tragedy in the role of a man who seems to have lived his life without really understanding the true face of his love. Stephen Pfisterer plays to another end of human folly in the role of a man chronically incapable of getting what he wants.

 

Sondheim has elements of the lives of the four central characters as played out in youth as well. For the most part their actions and reactions manifest onstage without dialogue. Carrie Gray and Abbie Armstrong bring a really vivid impression of these characters in youth without being given a great deal to do with the characters.

 

Soulstice Theatre’s production of Follies runs through June 21 at the Keith Tamsett Theater on 3770 South Pennsylvania Ave. in St. Francis. For ticket reservations, visit Soulstice Theatre online.

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