Broadway openings are like yellow-rumped warblers. They avoid the city in winter and summer, come swooping back at the start of spring—and they feather their nests with debris. Putting an ear to this theatrical season, one hears—over the occasional chirp of a distinctive voice—the producers’ incessant call to revise, revive, recycle. Thirty or so productions are looking to land on New York stages before May. Most are based on old material. In preparation, it’s only fitting to look back at the season so far. We’ll see how the clutter of the past can either stifle life or, like our flying friends’ housekeeping habits, help sustain it.
The best of the fall offerings was Follies, which moves to Los Angeles next month. The third revival in a decade proved the charm by lucidly exposing the derangement of, ironically enough, revivalism. Eric Schaeffer’s production, like star Bernadette Peters’s performance, lacked buoyancy. But their laser-like focus cut to the quick of the show’s hard truths.
The setting is the farewell party for an old theater palace on the eve of its demolition. From her entrance, Peters’s former chorus girl Sally makes it clear she’s come to win back her old flame, Ben (the hearty Ron Raines), and she doesn’t care who knows it—not his wife, fellow ex-chorine, Phyllis (a blistering Jan Maxwell), nor Sally’s husband, Buddy (Danny Burstein, so ingratiating you want to bring him home to mama). The blinding obviousness of her mania—“I’m going to live forever with the man I love”—spotlights the insanity in every character’s illusions.