AskDefine | Define follies

Dictionary Definition

follies n : a revue with elaborate costuming

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. Plural of folly
  2. A lavishly-produced theatrical revue characterized by major stars, huge casts, and opulent costumes and scenery.
    The most famous Broadway theatrical revues of all time were the Ziegfeld Follies.

Usage notes

  • The theatrical sense is probably influenced by the French usage, as with the Folies Bergères in Paris.
  • The word is not really used any more, but the big Las Vegas shows meet the definition for follies.

Extensive Definition

Follies is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by James Goldman. The show is nostalgic in tone and has a generally melancholy atmosphere. Several of its songs have become standards, including "Broadway Baby," "I'm Still Here," "Too Many Mornings," "Could I Leave You," and "Losing My Mind." The play was nominated for eleven Tonys and won seven.
The Broadway production opened on April 4 1971, directed by Harold Prince and Michael Bennett, and with choreography by Bennett. The production, which ultimately lost money, ran for 522 performances. Nevertheless, the piece has enjoyed a number of major revivals. In December 2007, Sondheim told The New York Times that a film adaptation of Follies was in development, with the director Sam Mendes and the writer Aaron Sorkin.

Background and story

Originally entitled The Girls Upstairs, Follies is set in a crumbling Broadway theatre, scheduled for demolition, during a reunion for all the past members of the "Weismann's Follies," a musical revue (based on the Ziegfeld Follies) which played in that theatre between the World Wars. The musical focuses on two couples, Buddy and Sally Durant Plummer and Ben and Phyllis Rogers Stone, who are attending the reunion. Sally and Phyllis were both showgirls in the Follies as were many of the other guests. Both marriages are having problems because Buddy, a traveling salesman, is having an affair with a girl on the road, Sally is still in love with Ben as she was years ago, and Ben is so self-absorbed that Phyllis feels emotionally abandoned.
The two couples interact with each other and other partygoers, and throughout the first half, musical numbers from the old Follies are performed by the characters, sometimes accompanied by the ghosts of their former selves. Most of the songs are pastiches of songs by popular songwriters of the past. Losing My Mind is in the style of a George Gershwin ballad, The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me Blues is in the style of Cole Porter and Loveland is akin to a 1920s Ziegfield Follies serenade. The last section of the show features a string of vaudeville-style numbers reflecting the leading characters' emotional troubles before returning to the theatre for the end of the reunion party.


1971 Broadway premiere

Follies opened on Broadway on April 4, 1971 at the Winter Garden Theatre, directed by Harold Prince and Michael Bennett, with choreography by Bennett. It starred Alexis Smith (Phyllis), John McMartin (Benjamin), Dorothy Collins (Sally), Gene Nelson (Buddy), and Yvonne De Carlo, along with several veterans of the Broadway and vaudeville stage. Even though the production ran for well over a year (522 performances), it was not considered a success, and lost money. This was due partly to the rather bleak nature of the show itself, particularly Goldman's book. Frank Rich, for many years The New York Timess chief drama critic, wrote on the occasion of the 1985 concert performance that audiences at the original production were baffled and restless. Goldman subsequently revised his work right up to his death, which occurred shortly before the 1998 Paper Mill production. Sondheim too has added and removed songs that he judged to be problematic in various productions.
The plum supporting role of Carlotta Campion, the seen-it-all ex-Follies girl who sings the showstopping "I'm Still Here," was created by Yvonne De Carlo in 1971, and has subsequently been given often to a celebrated veteran performer.
For commercial reasons, the cast album was cut from two LPs to one early in production. Most songs were therefore heavily abridged and several were left entirely unrecorded. ("One More Kiss" was omitted from the final release for time reasons, but was restored for CD release.)

1972 Los Angeles

A production ran from July 22, 1972 through October 1, 1972 at the Shubert Theatre, Century City, California. It was directed by Prince, and starred Dorothy Collins (Sally), Alexis Smith (Phyllis), John McMartin (Benjamin), Gene Nelson (Buddy), and Yvonne De Carlo (Carlotta) reprising their original roles. The production was the premiere attraction at the newly constructed 1,800-seat theatre, which was razed in 2002 to make way for a new office building.

1985 Lincoln Center concert

A concert at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, was produced September 6 and 7, 1985; it starred Barbara Cook (Sally), George Hearn (Benjamin), Mandy Patinkin (Buddy), and Lee Remick (Phyllis), and featured Carol Burnett (Carlotta), Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Liliane Montevecchi, Elaine Stritch, Phyllis Newman and Licia Albanese.
Among the reasons the concert was staged was to provide an opportunity to record the entire score. The resulting album was much more complete than the original cast album. However, director Herbert Ross took many liberties in adapting the book and score for the concert format--dance music was changed, songs were given false endings, new dialogue was spoken, reprises were added, and Patinkin was allowed to sing "The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me Blues" as a solo instead of a trio with two chorus girls. A videotape and DVD of the concert have been released titled Follies in Concert.

1987 London production

Dolores Gray played Carlotta in the 1987 London production at the Shaftesbury Theatre. The production by Cameron Mackintosh was directed by Mike Ockrent and featured Diana Rigg (Phyllis), Daniel Massey (Ben), Julia McKenzie (Sally), David Healy (Buddy), Lynda Baron, Leonard Sachs, Maria Charles, Pearl Carr & Teddy Johnson. During the run, Eartha Kitt replaced Gray as Carlotta. Goldman wrote a completely new book for the production, and Sondheim wrote four new songs: "Country House" (replacing "The Road You Didn't Take"), "Loveland" (replacing the song of the same title), "Ah, But Underneath" (replacing "The Story of Lucy and Jessie", for the non-dancer Diana Rigg), and "Make the Most of Your Music" (replacing "Live, Laugh, Love"). The production was, in the opinion of critics who saw it in New York (such as Frank Rich), substantially more "upbeat" and lacking in the atmosphere it had originally possessed. This production was also recorded on two CDs. Follies was voted ninth in a BBC Radio 2 listener poll of the UK's "Nation's Number One Essential Musicals."

1995 and 1998 regional productions

This production ran at the Theatre Under the Stars, Houston, Texas and later at the Fifth Avenue Theatre, Seattle with Virginia Mayo, Denise Darcel, Edie Adams, Constance Towers and Karen Morrow in the cast. The 1998 Paper Mill Playhouse revival in Millburn, New Jersey featured the legendary MGM star Ann Miller in the role of Carlotta. Also in the cast were Donna McKechnie, Kaye Ballard, Eddie Bracken, and Laurence Guittard; Newman and Montevecchi reprised the roles they played in the Lincoln Center production. "Ah, But Underneath" was substituted for "The Story of Lucy and Jessie" in order to accommodate non-dancer Dee Hoty in the role of Phyllis. This production received a full-length recording on two CDs, including not only the entire score as originally written, but a lengthy appendix of songs cut from the original production in tryouts.

1996 Dublin production

The 1996 Dublin Production starred Lorna Luft, Millicent Martin, Mary Millar and Enda Markey.

2001 Broadway revival

Another former MGM star, Betty Garrett, played the role of Hattie in the 2001 Broadway revival at the Belasco Theatre, which ran for 117 performances. Directed by Matthew Warchus, with choreography by Kathleen Marshall, also starring were Blythe Danner (Phyllis), Judith Ivey (Sally), Treat Williams (Buddy), Marge Champion, Gregory Harrison (Benjamin), Polly Bergen (Carlotta), Joan Roberts (later replaced by Marni Nixon), Larry Raiken, and an assortment of famous names from the past. It was significantly stripped down (previous productions, especially the original, were most notable for their extravagant sets and costumes) and was not a success critically or financially.

2002 London revival

London's Royal Festival Hall mounted a full production in August 2002, with Paul Kerryson from the Leicester Haymarket directing. The cast starred David Durham as Ben, Kathryn Evans as Sally, Louise Gold as Phyllis, and, Henry Goodman as Buddy.

2005 Barrington Stage Company

Julianne Boyd directed this fully staged version of Follies to launch Barrington's (Massachusetts) 11th season in June-July 2005. Principal cast included: Kim Crosby (Sally), Leslie Denniston (Phyllis Rogers Stone), Jeff McCarthy (Ben Stone), Lara Teeter (Buddy Plummer), Joy Franz (Solange La Fitte), Marni Nixon (Heidi Schiller), and Donna McKechnie (Carlotta Campion). Stephen Sondheim attended one of the performances.

2007 Encores! concert

New York City Center's Encores! "Great American Musicals in Concert" series featured Follies as its 40th production for 6 performances in February 2007 in a sold out semi-staged concert. The cast starred Donna Murphy (Phyllis), Victoria Clark (Sally), Victor Garber (Ben), and Michael McGrath (Buddy). Christine Baranski played Carlotta, and Lucine Amara sang Heidi. The cast also included JoAnne Worley, and Philip Bosco. The director and choreographer was Casey Nicolaw, the music director Eric Stern. One objective of the Encores! series is to use the full original instrumentation intended by the composer. Stephen Sondheim spoke from the stage at the post-matinee audience "talkback" session.

Song list

The original Broadway production of Follies was performed in one act; however, many later productions added intermissions.
  • Beautiful Girls - Roscoe and Company
  • Don't Look at Me - Sally and Ben
  • Waiting for the Girls Upstairs - Ben, Sally, Phyllis and Buddy, with Young Ben, Young Sally, Young Phyllis and Young Buddy
  • Rain on the Roof - Emily and Theodore
  • Ah, Paris! - Solange
  • Broadway Baby - Hattie
  • The Road You Didn't Take - Ben
  • Bolero d'Amour - Danced by Vincent and Vanessa; omitted from some productions
  • In Buddy's Eyes - Sally
  • Who's That Woman? - Stella and Company
  • I'm Still Here - Carlotta
  • Too Many Mornings - Ben and Sally
  • The Right Girl - Buddy
  • One More Kiss - Heidi and Young Heidi
  • Could I Leave You? - Phyllis
  • Loveland - Company
  • You're Gonna Love Tomorrow / Love Will See Us Through - Young Ben, Young Sally, Young Phyllis and Young Buddy
  • Buddy's Blues - Buddy
  • Losing My Mind - Sally
  • The Story of Lucy and Jessie - Phyllis; some productions substitute Ah, But Underneath...
  • Live, Laugh, Love - Ben
  • Finale - Company; varies by production, often a reprise of Beautiful Girls

Critical response

In the foreword to "Everything Was Possible", Frank Rich wrote: "From the start, critics have been divided about Follies, passionately pro or con but rarely on the fence. ...Is it really a great musical, or merely the greatest of all cult musicals..." (Chapin, p. xi) Ted Chapin wrote, "Taken as a whole, the collection of reviews Follies received was as rangy as possible." (Chapin, p. 300)
In his New York Times review of the original Broadway production, Clive Barnes wrote: " is stylish, innovative, it has some of the best lyrics I have ever encountered, and above all it is a serious attempt to deal with the musical form." Barnes also called the story shallow and Sondheim's words a joy "...even when his music sends shivers of indifference up your spine."
Walter Kerr wrote in the New York Times, "Follies is intermissionless and exhausting, an extravaganza that becomes so tedious... because its extravaganzas have nothing to do with its pebble of a plot." On the other hand, Martin Gottfried wrote: "'Follies' is truly awesome and, if it is not consistently good, it is always great."
Frank Rich, in reviewing the 1985 concert, wrote: "Friday's performance made the case that this Broadway musical... can take its place among our musical theater's very finest achievements."
Ben Brantley, reviewing the 1998 revival, concluded that it was a "...fine, heartfelt production, which confirms Follies as a landmark musical and a work of art..."

Awards and nominations

Original 1971 Broadway
  • New York Drama Critics' Award for Best Musical
  • Best Musical (nominee)
  • Best Book of a Musical (nominee)
  • Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Gene Nelson) (nominee)
  • Best Music and Lyrics (Stephen Sondheim) (winner)
  • Best Director (Harold Prince and Michael Bennett) (winners)
  • Best Actress in a Musical
Alexis Smith (winner)
Dorothy Collins (nominee)
  • Best Choreographer (Michael Bennett) (winner)
  • Best Scenic Design (Boris Aronson) (winner)
  • Best Costumes (Florence Klotz) (winner)
  • Best Lighting (Tharon Musser)(winner)
  • Outstanding Choreography (winner)
  • Outstanding Lyrics (winner)
  • Outstanding Music (winner)
  • Outstanding Costume Design (winner)
  • Outstanding Set Design (winner)
  • Outstanding Performance - Starring- Alexis Smith (winner)
  • Outstanding Director Harold Prince, Michael Bennett - (winner)
2001 Broadway revival
Tony Awards
  • Best Revival of a Musical (nominee)
  • Best Actress in a Musical (Blythe Danner) (nominee)
  • Featured Actress in a Musical (Polly Bergen)(nominee)
  • Best Costume Design (nominee)
  • Best Orchestrations (nominee)
Drama Desk Award
  • Outstanding Revival of a Musical (nominee)
  • Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical (Polly Bergen) (nominee)
  • Outstanding Orchestrations (nominee)


  • Everything Was Possible: The Birth of the Musical Follies
  • Follies (Playwrights Canada Press)
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