"Follies," the 1971 Stephen Sondheim musical, takes place in a decrepit theater that will soon be demolished.
“Follies,” the 1971 Stephen Sondheim musical, takes place in a decrepit theater that will soon be demolished.
On High Street just south of Fifth Avenue stands the Garden Theater. For months now, this 1920s landmark — which over the years has hosted silent movies, vaudeville shows, church services and a sex shop — has been undergoing resurrection.
At the intersection of demolition and resurrection sits Short North Stage, the new company bringing the Garden back to life with a staging of “Follies.”
“We have intentionally left some of the aspects of decay on display,” producer Rick Gore explained. “As our director, Kevin McGuire, likes to say, ‘Any other theater company would have to spend a fortune getting the set The Garden gives us for free.’”
Gore recalled showing McGuire the space for the first time. “He looked around and tears filled his eyes. He turned to me and said, ‘Before you do anything else, you must do ‘Follies’ here.’”
In the play, former Weismann Theatre performers gather, confront the memories of their younger selves, and re-evaluate their lives and loves at a reunion on the eve of their old theater being torn down.
“It’s a story of youth and age, of passing of time, of how to live with the ghosts of our past,” Gore said. “Musically it’s an amazing concoction of songs that reflect both the distant past of Broadway and the transition to the more contemporary styles of the past few decades.”
With intertwined professional and romantic pasts, the four lead characters are usually seen as sad and disillusioned.
“We have a different view of the show,” Gore said. “All the other characters have accommodated themselves to the ravages that life delivers and found ways to feel the joy that life brings with maturity.”
As for the lead quartet, their confrontation with the past liberates them. “They finally see the follies of their lives,” Gore continued, “the obsessions and anger and blindness to the love they actually have. They leave the reunion exhausted, but with their ghosts exorcised.”
Audiences will likely leave The Garden exhilarated by the twin prospects of a new company and its revitalized home.
Photo by Jason Brabbs