Director Eric Schaeffer's production seems to satisfy most of those who've wished for a Follies worthy of their lavish imaginings, as little expense has been spared, from the full 28-piece orchestra to the garish costumes for the Loveland sequence (courtesy of Gregg Barnes). For myself, though I find its musical virtues nearly definitive, this Follies is on the whole a bittersweet homecoming. What I glimpse through its whorl of disparate elements—many if not all of them exquisitely conceived and rendered—is not quite a great show but a great idea for a show, or perhaps more accurately, a number of great ideas for shows.And in this month's American Theatre, I've got a review of the master's second volume of lyrics, Finishing the Hat:
The saving grace of this gargantuan literary effort—less a compendium of lyrics than a hybrid artistic memoir/deluxe liner notes collection—is its infectious enthusiasm; even when he has spent them on mistaken projects and blind alleys, Sondheim shows a questing vigor and restless creative spirit that offset his equally strong tendencies toward ruefulness, doubt and acerbic criticism of others as well as himself. Perhaps because the second volume contains two shows either savaged or dismissed by critics and audiences (Passion and the Mizner bros. debacle), as well as a number of never-finished pet projects, it has more than the usual tone of defensive special pleading.
This would be unpleasant were Sondheim not also so fair-minded and, yes, openhearted about his process and his foibles. At one point, he confesses that he cries easily; more startling, he later confesses that he only noticed the precious, irreducible ephemerality of theatre—the chosen medium of his entire adult life!—after a 1979 cocktail conversation with British directors, who seemed aghast at the notion of videotaping performances for archival purposes. “The very thing that makes theatre impermanent is what makes it immortal,” he belatedly realizes. “In a sense, every night of a show is a revival.”