Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 10, 2015


Theatre Guild of Hampden, Hampden, MA
through March 22, 2015
by Michael J. Moran

The original Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies” won six Tony Awards in 1972, including best direction of a musical, best choreography, best scenic design, and best costume design. Mark Giza’s sensitive direction, Kathleen Delaney’s imaginative choreography, the resourceful set design by Josiah Durham and Giza, and Ann-Marie Popko’s period-perfect costume design are equally award-worthy in TGH’s thrilling production of this musical theatre production.

On entering Fisk Hall at Wilbraham Monson Academy in Wilbraham, the audience sees the rundown stage of an old theatre slated for demolition on which a reunion of past performers in musical revues - based on Ziegfeld’s Follies - is about to take place 30 years after their closing show in 1941. The story focuses on two unhappily married former showgirls and the husbands who courted them back then. They and other characters are often hauntingly shadowed on stage by ghosts of their younger selves.

Performances by the large cast of 27 players are consistently enthusiastic and committed. Gene Choquette’s Ben is jaded yet vulnerable, while Anna Giza captures all the bitterness and yearning of his wife Phyllis. Colby Herchel and Kk Walulak are touching as their younger counterparts. Kevin Wherry is funny and poignant as the hapless Buddy, putting his flexible limbs to entertaining use in “Buddy’s Blues.”  

Erica Romeo’s portrayal of Buddy’s wife Sally is a revelation, as she moves from giddy girlishness in her arrival at the reunion, through the emotional rekindling of her youthful affair with Ben, to her stark realization that she can never have him. The depth and pain of her “Losing My Mind” are especially heartrending. Alley Reardon is endearing as Young Sally, as is Paul Leckey as Young Buddy.

Special supporting cast kudos go to Pat Haynes, whose ditsy Hattie is a hoot in “Broadway Baby,” and to Conni Lind, whose understated Carlotta triumphs in a powerful, subtly shaded “I’m Still Here.”

The five-piece on-stage band sound like a much bigger orchestra under musical director Bill Martin and does yeoman’s work in meeting the challenges of Sondheim’s intricate score. This "Follies” is outstanding, to be much appreciated by local theatre fans.