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By the Boards: Dennis Brown on the STL Theater Scene June 12-14

Categories: By the Boards
K's Theatrical Korps is a plucky little company in south St. Louis that keeps its own counsel. K's often tackles shows that would give other community theaters the heebie-jeebies. This weekend the company is opening a two-week run of the infamous 1971 musical Follies, in which a crumbling Broadway theater becomes a metaphor for the loss of innocence that we experience as we grow older. This is harsh material for a musical, no matter how elaborately it is presented, and the original Broadway Follies was not a commercial success. Yet Follies has developed its own history and lore. It regularly receives major revivals around the world.

Follies.jpg
Sometimes these revivals take the form of staged concerts that only focus on Stephen Sondheim's elegant score. But the show does have a script -- in fact, it has a couple -- written by James Goldman. When Follies was first produced in London in 1987, Goldman almost completely rewrote his libretto. I once had occasion to talk to him about why he did that.

"Follies is a very personal show," he explained, "involving how you feel about aging, marriage and the possibility of intimate human relationships. At the time the original show was written, all of us involved were going through lousy times in one way or another. So there is something bitter and bleak about the show, which by 1987 I didn't like any more. I still think the original show was terrific, but it no longer said what I wanted it to say."

So he rewrote it, which is more difficult to do if your show is a success.

"Follies will always affect people, even in its present version, which is much less bitter and sour," Goldman continued. "But it can never be an easy show, because it deals with growing old. In London I think both Stephen and I finally dealt with what we always meant to deal with but had not dealt with in 1971. I'm talking about the real subject of what the show should have been, which is coming to terms. Coming to terms with the fact that you're never going to be an Olympic swimmer, you're never going to be six feet tall. Whatever lies in your present and future has to be accepted. You have to come to terms with it. That's never a light experience. So the show doesn't float along on hearts and flowers, because the difficulty with the material is built in. But the tone is now different. One thing we've learned through the years is that Follies has always had a tremendous effect on young people."

* * *

If you prefer your Sondheim unadorned -- sans libretto -- you might try "Putting It Together: The Music of Stephen Sondheim," Ken Haller's cabaret performance at the Kranzberg Arts Center tonight and tomorrow night, June 12 and 13. To listen to a compilation of Sondheim songs -- especially those for which he wrote both words and music -- is to be  thrilled by a rare kind of theater music in which ambition embraces melody.

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