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On Final Curtains and New Beginnings

Soulstice stages a Sondheim classic

Jun. 10, 2014
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Soulstice Theatre closes its season with Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s classic Follies. Set at a showgirls’ reunion in a New York theater slated for demolition, the story centers on two couples, the wives, former Weismann Girls and their husbands, the men who fell in love with them 30 years prior. Both marriages are severely troubled and the reunion throws the four into a spiral of revelation and regret, lust and love, denial and—ultimately—acceptance.

The show is structurally unique in that many of the characters are doubled by “ghosts” of their younger selves. As the plot becomes increasingly psychological the characters speak to one another across time, aptly realizing the universal question, “If I knew then what I know now…”

Under Artistic Director Jillian Smith and a first-class pit orchestra directed by Colleen Schmitt, many strong vocal performances emerge. Liz Norton is a powerhouse as the jilted but indomitable Phyllis in “Ah, But Underneath,” a fantastically entertaining burlesque striptease. Laura Monagle manages an impressive blend of high emotionality and technical skill as Sally, a woman in love with her friend’s husband for 30 years; she is heartbreaking in “Losing My Mind.” The male leads, David Ferrie (Ben) and Stephen Pfisterer (Buddy), deliver proficient vocal performances as well, although straight acting seems their stronger suit, Ferrie as the protagonist plagued by self-doubt and Pfisterer as a man coming to grips with loving the chase more than the conquest.

Abby Armstrong and Thomas Jacobsen are harmonically masterful as Young Phyllis and Young Ben in the poignant honeymoon suite “You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow.” Indalecio de Jesús Valentín (Young Buddy) and Carrie Gray (Young Sally) are similarly charming, with Gray’s performance opposite Ferrie in a time-bending scene particularly breathtaking.

Supporting standouts include Tamara Martinsek in the triumphantly enduring “I’m Still Here,” Joy Bach in the hilariously frou-frou “Ah, Paris” and Wendy Rightler in “Broadway Baby,” the quintessential anthem for exhausted, hardworking actresses everywhere. 

Although the themes are heavy and Sondheim’s final twist unfortunately under-developed, Follies is an entertaining look at the industry’s past as well as the heartache that binds humanity across time.

Through June 21 at the Keith Tamsett Theater, 3770 S. Pennsylvania Ave., Suite 2, St Francis


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