Follies is set on the stage of a Broadway theater that is about to be demolished. Watching the arrival of the lustrous new production of Follies at the Ahmanson Theatre reminded me of a now-demolished LA theater, the Broadway-sized Shubert, which once occupied a choice piece of real estate in the middle of Century City.
It’s not that the Shubert had as long a history or as many theater ghosts as the Broadway theater depicted in the musical. The Shubert didn’t open until 1972 — but its first production was the LA premiere of Follies.
I didn’t see that 1972 production. I wasn’t in LA that summer. I had already seen the original production of Follies on Broadway, so I didn’t think much about the LA rendition. Besides, I was too young to fully appreciate Follies and therefore didn’t feel compelled to see every version of it.
However, later I became a regular at the Shubert, seeing most of the shows there from 1979 until it closed in 2002. And in the intervening years, I saw several productions of Follies, including a concert version at Lincoln Center that I covered for the LA Times.
In 2002, I covered the Shubert’s last hurrah for the Times. It was a reunion of people who had worked at the Shubert. As in Follies, it took place at the theater, mostly on the stage. Many of the guests that night compared the event to the fictional reunion depicted in Follies.
I don’t go to many theater-related parties, but this was certainly the best I’ve experienced in LA. Here is my account of it, as it appeared in the Times the following Monday.
Of course, I doubt that there was a lot of marital angst going on among the couples at the Shubert party, as there is among the couples in Follies. If an old romance suddenly re-ignited among the party guests that night, I missed it. And even if I had sniffed out such a story, I doubt that my editors would have allowed me to write about it — it would have been considered an invasion of privacy. Real life can’t always be as interesting as fiction.
After I left the Times in 2006, I took a voice class and two semesters of a musical theater performance class at Valley College, taught by Christian Nova. In the musical theater class, the first song I decided to work on was “The Road You Didn’t Take” from Follies. At this point in my life, I understood and appreciated Follies a lot more than I had more than three decades earlier. Memorizing and performing the song a few times in front of the class, accompanied by analyses of what I was doing from Dr. Nova, I quickly understood and appreciated how difficult it is to sing Sondheim.
The class did a public performance or two at the end of each semester, where we had to face a somewhat larger audience. Dr. Nova decided which songs each student performed at the big event, and he picked other songs for me. Apparently the idea of subjecting the audience to my performance of “The Road You Didn’t Take” was one road he didn’t want to take.
At this point in my life, I doubt that I will ever sing “The Road You Didn’t Take” in front of another audience. As the song says, we make choices, and often we can’t go back. Decades ago, I chose to concentrate on writing about theater, not on participating in it.
I don’t regret that decision (and I’m sure the world doesn’t either). One of my many rewards for that choice was being able to see and hear Ron Raines perform “The Road You Didn’t Take” on opening night at the Ahmanson last week. He’s magnificent, as is just about everything else about this Follies. If you’re of a certain age, or even if you expect to reach a certain age, I suggest that seeing this Follies is a road you should take.
Follies, Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., LA. Tue-Fri 8 pm, Sat 2 and 8 pm, Sun 1 and 6:30 pm. Thu 2 pm on May 31 and June 7; Mon 8 pm on June 4. Closes June 9. No evening performance on Sun June 3. www.CenterTheatreGroup.org. 213-628-2772.
***All Follies production photos by Craig Schwartz
In Follies, Raines plays Benjamin Stone, who leads Sally into the mistaken belief that he will leave his wife, run off with Sally and start a new life. If the Follies premise sounds soapy on paper, it’s more than redeemed by Sondheim’s score.
In Cyrano, Stephen Sachs’ new take on the Rostand chestnut at the Fountain, Cyrano mistakenly thinks that Roxy is interested in him, only to learn that she really digs his brother Chris. If the Cyrano premise is based on a love triangle that’s about as predictably hopeless as the one in Follies, the redeeming feature here is the production’s use of ASL to illuminate the plays’ miscommunications and heartbreaks.
You see, Cyrano (indefatigable Troy Kotsur) is deaf and mute, Chris (Paul Raci) both speaks and signs, and Roxy (Erinn Anova) speaks but is ASL-deficient. Yes, it’s a co-production between the Fountain and Deaf West theaters.
This all takes place in LA in the 21st century, and it’s one of the most ingenious updates of a classic I’ve seen in a long time. Sachs’ adaptation sheds much of the fat from Rostand’s original and chucks a battlefield setting in order to concentrate on the less violent (although not entirely violence-free) conflicts between the hearing and the deaf worlds and, of course, the miscommunications between these three individuals. The cast and designers, under director Simon Levy’s guidance, rise to the occasion.
Having said all that, the truly unexpected revelation here is the treatment of Chris, who is usually portrayed as a fairly bland but handsome young lug in productions of Rostand’s Cyrano. Here Chris is a small-framed, middle-aged rocker with long, stringy hair and a weakness for weed. Raci’s performance speaks almost as eloquently about roads that weren’t taken as Raines’ Ben Stone does in Follies. He also has a sidesplitting moment in which he tries to employ his rock ‘n’ roller’s shtick to compose his own love lyrics. The title might easily have been Cyrano and Chris.
Cyrano, Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., east Hollywood. Thu-Sat 8 pm, Sun 2 pm, through July 8. www.FountainTheatre.com. 323-663-1525.
***All Cyrano production photos by Ed Krieger