Author: Horowitz, Mark Eden
Date published: October 1, 2011
The bad news: The Sondheim Review did not exist in the 1970s. The good news: Huge quantities of fully-scanned and searchable newspapers are now available through various subscription databases, allowing us to reclaim much forgotten history. To mark Follies' 40th anniversary, TSR has assembled excerpts from clippings about the original production. (It should be noted, while this is what was reported at the time, it does not necessarily mean the reporting itself was accurate.)
May 31, 1967, The New York Times
David Merrick will be involved in two more musicals, The Girls Upstairs and The Apartment - the former with Leland Hayward in the fall ... The Girls Upstairs was written by James Goldman (book) and Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics). The story concerns a producer of musicals whose theatre is to be demolished.
June 13, 1967, The Sun: The Lyons Den
John Dexter will direct the Sondheim-Goldman musical for Leland Hayward.
April 23, 1969, The New York Times
Joseph Hardy, director of two flourishing shows, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown and Play It Again Sam, will stage Stuart Ostrow's next musical, The Girls Upstairs, on Broadway early next year. ... Mr. Ostrow will produce. The story concerns a reunion of Ziegfeld girls in a theatre about to be demolished. Leland Hayward and David Merrick had previously planned to produce the musical.
April 27, 1969, The New York Times
The Stephen Sondheim-James Goldman musical, The Girls Upstairs, will be staged by Joseph Hardy. Plans call for an opening early in January.
October 5, 1969, Hartford Courant
Producer Stuart Ostrow has set the production dates for his new musical, The Girls Upstairs. ... It will open on Broadway on Feb. 15, [1970,] with previews scheduled from Feb. 11 through 14. Preliminary engagements will be played in New Haven (Shubert Theatre) Jan. 10 through 17. Rehearsals under the direction of Joseph Hardy will commence on Dec. 8. Ostrow is the producer of the Tony Award and Drama Critics Prize musical, 1776.
October 7, 1969, The New York Times
Stuart Ostrow has announced that he will not produce The Girls Upstairs because of what he called "substantial artistic differences with the authors." ... Mr. Ostrow was the third producer of the show, which deals with a reunion of Ziegfeld girls in a theatre about to be demolished. Others were Leland Hayward and David Merrick.
July 29, 1970, Hartford Courant
Has Anne Baxter been discussing a B'way musical with producer Hal Prince? (He's preparing The Girls Upstairs, about the Follies beauties).
October 7, 1970, The New York Times
Dorothy Collins has signed for a starring role in Harold Prince's musical Follies, which opens at the Winter Garden on April 4. ... It will be co-directed by Mr. Prince and Michael Bennett.
October 8, 1970, The New York Times
Yvonne De Carlo will be costarred with Alexis Smith, Gene Nelson and Dorothy Collins in the forthcoming Harold Prince production of Follies ... Miss De Carlo, who has appeared in more than 30 films, will be making her Broadway stage debut in the role of Carlotta, a movie star who began her show business career in the Ziegfeld "Follies."
November 1, 1970, The New York Times
Harold Prince, the producer-director, and Mrs. Prince had one of their usual informal buffet suppers not long ago. Stephen Sondheim was the pièce de résistance, playing and singing the score of his new musical, Follies.
November 19, 1970, Chicago Tribune
We haven't heard much about Peggy Fears lately, have we? She has been living in comparative seclusion in California, but there was a time when she was just about the most swinging thing in what used to be known as café society. Anyhow, Peggy's coming back to the swinging world - or what passes for it. Hal Prince is giving her the title of "technical adviser and special promotion director" for his new show Follies. Peggy was once one of the most glorified of all the Ziegfeld beauties. She won't actually be appearing in Hal's Follies, but such people as Alexis Smith, Dorothy Collins, Gene Nelson, Mary McCarty and Yvonne De Carlo will. The show goes into rehearsals in January. Yvonne De Carlo? Right on.
November 19, 1970, Los Angeles Times
Numerous lucky people who've attended a run-through tell me that Hal Prince's next Broadway musical, Follies, with music by Stephen Sondheim, the genius of Company, will be a smash. ... The male lead will be Gene Nelson, remember? He's the one-time dancer of Warner Bros. musicals-turned-director. Now turned Follies star.
December 22, 1970, The New York Times
Ethel Barrymore Colt and Mary McCarty have been signed by Harold Prince to return to Broadway in Follies, an original musical with [a book by] James Goldman and a score by Stephen Sondheim, which opens April 4 at the Winter Garden Theatre. Miss Colt was last seen on Broadway in Come of Age in 1952. She recently made a State Department sponsored tour through Europe with her one-woman show of American Theatre music. Miss McCarty recently opened her own nightclub, Mary-mary. She last appeared here in Bless You All, produced in 1951. The two actresses will be featured in Follies.
January 3, 1971, The New York Times
In April, Harold Prince will be offering Follies with a cast that will include Fifi D'Orsay, who started in the chorus of the Greenwich Village Follies, and became a screen star; and Ethel Shutta, once of the Ziegfeld Follies and Whoopee.
January 16, 1971, The Christian Science Monitor
It looked as if the clock were running backwards, nostalgically ticking off the years. The winter of our discontent would be brightened as the sun shone on happier yesterdays in a succession of Broadway musicals. First, on Jan. 19, No, No, Nanette ... Then, in late March, 70 Girls 70 ... Finally ... a touch of Flo Ziegfeld in Harold Prince's production of Follies, due on Broadway next April after four weeks in Boston. ... The nostalgic element in Follies turns out to be somewhat incidental. A spokesman for producer Harold Prince describes it as a 1971 story with flashbacks to an earlier era ... Dorothy Collins and Alexis Smith play Follies girls who have married millionaires. Follies refers as much to the things that human beings commit as to the extravaganzas that once "glorified the American girl." Mr. Prince's Follies is said to be a serious show but life affirming.
February 7, 1971, The Sun
Dorothy Collins got the role, her first shot at Broadway acclaim, with a left-handed compliment that might have fazed a less hardy spirit. "After I finished the audition," she recalls, "producer Hal Prince told me, 'I've hated you for years, but you're not itsy-poo at all."' ... The entertainer from Windsor, Ont., at age 44 is having her initial Broadway workout in the musical Follies, due at New York's Winter Garden on April 4, after a tryout tour. ... In Follies, Miss Collins enacts an unhappily married woman who fantasizes her life until she and another showgirl have a reunion 30 years after their brief glimmer in the limelight.
April 4, 1971, The New York Times
A bevy of slightly battered beauties holds a reunion, bringing along their hang-ups and husbands. It's been 30 years since these ex-Follies girls have seen one another, so there's a lot of catching up to be done. A lot of remember-the-time's and a lot of my-God-look-what's-become-of-her's. The traumatic get-together takes place in a new musical called Follies, tonight at the Winter Garden. Customers anticipating a trip down No, No, Nanette lane should be advised that Follies is set in 1971, the songs have been written by Stephen Sondheim, and the drama staged by Hal Prince and Michael Bennett - the same three iconoclasts who were behind the carbolic Company. But since the show does deal with nostalgia, it seems appropriate to ask the three well-seasoned stars who are marking their Broadway debuts in Follies - Alexis Smith, Dorothy Collins and Yvonne De Carlo - to steal a few minutes from their tryout chores and reminisce about their heydays. "Nostalgia?" shrugs Alexis Smith, not bothering to conceal her disdain. The former morie queen is now 49, ... Despite her Hollywood fame, Yvonne does not have one of the leading roles in Follies. Like Alexis Smith and Dorothy Collins, she is starred in the show, but unlike them she is billed below the title. Actually, the part that Yvonne first auditioned for was the larger one that Alexis Smith finally landed. "That wasn't really my kind of woman; it wasn't somebody I could identify with. You know, a brittle, society type dame."
April 5, 1971, The New York Times
Critic Clive Barnes: The musical Follies, which opened last night at the Winter Garden, is the kind of musical that should have its original cast album out on 78's. It carries nostalgia to where sentiment finally engulfs it in its sickly maw. And yet - in part - it 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. ... James Goldman's book is well enough written; indeed one of its problems is that the writing is far better than the shallow, narrow story, raising expectations that are never fulfilled. ... Mr. Sondheim's music comes in two flavors - nostalgic and cinematic. The nostalgic kind is for the pseudo-oldie numbers, and I must say that most of them sound like numbers that you have almost only just forgotten, but with good reason. This non-hit parade of pastiche trades on camp, but fundamentally gives little in return. It has all the twists and turns of yesteryear, but none of the heart - and eventually the fun it makes of the past seems to lack something in affection. The cinematic music is a mixture of this and that, chiefly that. I doubt whether anyone will be parodying it in 30 or 40 years' time. The lyrics are as fresh as a daisy. I know of no better lyricist in show-business than Mr. Sondheim - his words are a joy to listen to, even when his music is sending shivers of indifference up your spine. The man is a Hart in search of a Rodgers, or even a Boito in search of a Verdi.
April 7, 1971, The Christian Science Monitor
Critic John Beaufort: Follies is fabulous. A show-biz spectacular with producer-director Harold Prince masterminding the show and Boris Aronson devising the spectacle. A nostalgic-ironic trip down mem'ry lane with Stephen Sondheim composing tunes in a medley of styles and periods. ... While Mr. Sondheim is generous with song numbers for the mismatched central quartet, Follies is never more winning than when lovely nostalgia takes over from marital wrangling.
April 8, 1971, The Sun
Critic William Glover: Every one of the gals gets to do one of Stephen Sondheim's merry wha-wha reprises of such vaudeville-era tunetypes as "Ah, Paree!," "Broadway Baby," "Who's That Woman?" and "I'm Still Here." All good fun.
April 8, 1971, Hartford Courant
The gayest party of 1971 was going along very drinkingly at the Rainbow Room when suave, sophisticated and very cool producer Hal Prince of Follies quieted several hundred revelers to castigate a morning newspaper drama critic who, he maintained, should go back to England. "And I want every single word repeated to him directly," stated Prince. The reviews from radio, TV and most of the press had been good, but then there was "this blankety blank fool" who had written slightly disparagingly of the Follies opening at the Winter Garden ... and when Prince became more specific, some stamped their feet in approval. ... Gene Nelson had double trouble. He suffered a torn thigh preventing him from doing his best dance. And his son, Douglas, 8, was in a coma in Los Angeles after being hit by a car. "He is responding to treatment," Gene said gloomily.
April 9, 1971, The New York Times
Once there was a little murder mystery called The Girls Upstairs fermenting in the minds of playwright James Goldman and composer Stephen Sondheim. Now there is the smash hit musical spectacular Follies thriving at the Winter Garden. The metamorphosis took six years, at least 19 rewrites, and finally, nine months of intensive creative collaborations. The idea began with Mr. Goldman. In 1965 Mr. Sondheim asked him if he had an idea for a musical. He said he wanted to write about a reunion, he thought, perhaps of a school like Vassar - until he read a newspaper item about a reunion of Ziegfeld girls. As the composer and playwright conceived The Girls Upstairs, it was, says Sondheim, "a melodramatic operetta, full of incidents." At the end of the first act, each of the four principals (two couples) had reasons to kill someone. The second act asked, "who'll do it?" There was a duel, a gun that didn't go off, and one of the girls locked the other in a phone booth. The musical was optioned by David Merrick and Leland Hayward, then by Stuart Ostrow, who dropped it six weeks before production. Harold Prince had read it in one of the earliest incarnations. "It was extremely well-written," he recalls, "and I didn't like it." Now he looked at it again, and agreed to produce it. ... One of the first things that Mr. Prince did was to change the title to Follies, which accented the increasingly symbolic nature of the show. Next, Mr. Prince asked, "Why are you studiously avoiding having young people on stage?" In early versions, the couple remembered, but did not relive, their past. The play was naturalistic. Mr. Prince envisioned something more abstract, and - his word - "audacious." The show should have a "gauzy feeling." This triggered off Mr. Goldman. "I'm not a naturalistic writer," he explains. Soon the show became, as Mr. Sondheim describes it, "a dream play, a memory piece." The composer's own memory of music past gave him his style. The score, he emphasizes, is not satirical. "It's looking at the past with affection, respect and delight. In no way am I pointing out how silly the songs were because I don't think they're silly. What they are is innocent." He wrote conscious and specific pastiche of, among others, Kern, Porter, Da Silva-Brown-Henderson, Victor Herbert-Rudolf Friml, Arlen, "Fred Astaire as written by Gershwin" and "Gershwin torch." ... Then with Florence Klotz's 150 costumes, the very expensive ($700,000) show traveled to Boston. Mr. Sondheim added and subtracted songs. An intermission came - and left. The book shrank. The plot dwindled. From the first, there was supposed to be a Follies show within the show, but no one quite knew when and how to do it. Finally, collaboratively, they invented "Loveland," the fantastic recreation of the characters' illusions about themselves and the Follies. As Mr. Sondheim says: "The audience waits, but it doesn't know what it is waiting for. Suddenly there's a metaphoric explosion!"
April 11, 1971, Los Angeles Times
Alexis Smith! Dorothy Collins! Yvonne De Carlo! The names on the marquee suggest that Hal Prince went leafing through one of those "Whatever Became of" books before he cast his new musical, Follies. That is not the case, but neither is it any accident that most of the leading parts have fallen to stars whose names automatically call to mind show business moments of bygone days. "That's the very essence of the show," said Prince, ... "It's a show about people who did a Follies in the 1940s meeting again 30 years later. So where do you go to cast a show like that? To people who have been around for a while. Having people who share the common experience of having been part of a glamorous industry in an earlier time gives us an element of truth." ... Before opening, Prince was slave-driving his cast of 50 through six-day-a-week, 4 p.m. to midnight rehearsals. Clearly, not the sweetest of circumstances for three lady veterans of two or three decades of star treatment. But reports filtering back from the theatre and the ladies themselves indicated that Alexis, Dorothy and Yvonne were displaying such sisterly cooperation and getting so palsy their names might just as well have been Patty, Maxine and Laverne ... [Dorothy Collins:] "Sally's the girl who's been living in Phoenix for the past 25 years or so. Her husband, Gene Nelson, is a salesman, a traveling salesman who travels a lot more than he has to, I think, because things are pretty lousy for him at home. She's the one who hasn't done so well since the Follies in contrast to her ex-roommate, the lady Alexis Smith plays, who has everything: a rich husband, a very glamorous, highly publicized life. ... "When I first read the show, when another producer had an option on it," said Prince, "I said Dorothy Collins is the girl for this part. I've been wanting to do a show with her since she auditioned for She Loves Me. It was very close between her and Barbara Cook as to which would get the part. I almost tossed a coin." ... She doesn't know, exactly, why Prince thinks she's so right for this role. "I don't want to know!" she said with a chuckle. "This lady's a little crazy, you know. The script says that she is someone who 'obviously, was once adorable.' Well, I guess I could see a lot of the old Hit Parade girl there." ... "Alexis auditioned and she was good," said Prince. "She is a lovely dancer. We were absolutely shocked at how good she was. She had studied dancing all through her childhood, and she told me they only let her dance one number in one all-star movie out of all the films she made." ... "She sings well," said Dorothy Collins, "and she really docs sing. It's not like she was just talking a song. It's part of Stephen Sondheim's genius, he's given her songs she can handle comfortably." Naturally, Prince waxes enthusiastic about his leading ladies. "Seventy-five percent of good directing is proper easting," he said, "and each of these ladies is absolutely right for her part. There's great contrast. All three ladies could not be less alike, which is great fun."
April 11, 1971, The New York Times
Critic Walter Kerr: Follies is intermissionless and exhausting, an extravaganza that becomes tedious for two simple reasons: Its extravagances have nothing to do with its pebble of a plot; and the plot, which could be wrapped up in approximately two songs, dawdles through 22 before it declares itself done. ... James Goldman has done the libretto; everyone else is rather grimly chained to it. It is trivial and - for all the time it spends on its four fretting principals - unclear. ... The players themselves are attractive; Alexis Smith, in particular, is dazzling. ... The fact that the musical pastiches, written to remind us of what these performers used to do, do not have any real relationship to the marital squabbles at hand - the two marriages of the evening could be dropped in toto into Mr. Prince's other musical of the moment, Company, without fuss or loss or even anyone's noticing it - poses a serious problem for composer Stephen Sondheim, one I do not think he has solved.
April 18, 1971, The New York Times
Critic Clive Barnes: Follies, the newest of Mr. Prince's musical shows which has recently opened, has a lot to commend it, including the most sumptuous costumes, the slickest lyrics and, with Miss Alexis Smith, one of the most beguiling performances to be seen on Broadway. But it is extraordinarily pretentious and its clear aspirations to be taken as serious theatre will I think seem strange to audiences familiar with opera and ballet. For example the Proustian mixture of time past with time present, which is utilized in Follies and has been regarded as sophisticated and called an "act of dramatic creation" and "daring" by some of my colleagues from the drama aisle-seats, is a commonplace in dance.
April 20, 1971, Financial Times
Critic George Oppenheimer: Where Company is a brittle and, to me, a rather shallow entertainment with a magnificent score and an excellent production, Follies leans in the opposite direction towards sentimentality. ... Mr. Sondheim's lyrics are, as always, literate and witty, and his songs capture well the feel of the old Follies score, at the same time tenderly spoofing them. I do not like his modern songs as well as I did those in Company. There are 22 numbers in all and they come at you so fast and furiously that, on subsequent and more leisurely hearing, I may find myself more partial toward them.
April 25, 1971, The New York Times
Arts writer Martin Gottfried: Neither Clive Barnes nor Walter Kerr liked Follies and they are this newspaper's drama critics. I am not about to say that they were "wrong," and right and wrong, rave and pan are the least of theatre criticism anyway. I do believe, though, that every artwork is either good or it isn't, and I am convinced that Follies is monumental theatre. Not because I say so but because it is there for anybody to see. Moreover, its importance as a kind of theatre transcends its interest as an example of a musical. I mean to notice this in The New York Times because if this truly great work is not recognized in these pages, then a part of reality will have gone unrecorded there. ... The concept behind Follies is theatre nostalgia, representing the rose-colored glasses through which we face the fact of age. In exploring this idea - the fancied past and the painful reality - Harold Prince and Stephen Sondheim have carried the musical theatre into size, into grandeur. ... Sondheim's qualities as a theatre composer can hardly be overstated. He is constantly extending his vision, a composer applying a trained imagination to a stage he intimately understands. He works with, perhaps, the finest orchestrator in our theatre's history, Jonathan Tuniek, who uses ingenious and sympathetic instrumental combinations to bring out Sondheim's inner voices, his fresh turns of harmony, his inventive meters and surprising resolutions. Sondheim's music is modern even when it is nostalgic and Tuniek understands this. Moreover, by writing his own, virtually perfect, lyrics, Sondheim matches the words to the (musical and intellectual) personality of his music as no partner lyricist could possibly do ..."
May 16, 1971, Chicago Tribune
"This show, incidentally was the most taxing I [Hal Prince] have ever done, both physically and emotionally." Those who see in Follies, with its reunion of showgirls of another era and the razing of a landmark theatre, only another entry in the nostalgia sweepstakes miss the point, according to Prince. "The show is about the state of values in our country today," explained the producer, who is noted for musicals of an offbeat nature. "It is about our loss of innocence, for one thing. The tearing down of a famous theatre to be replaced by a parking lot is somewhat symbolic of the situation. The principal characters find that the old values no longer sustain them; they seek new ones that may help them survive."
May 23, 1971, The New York Times
Letter to the Editor: Follies is the finest musical I have ever seen (and I have seen it three times). I awaited with keen anticipation the release of the original east recording and bought it almost immediately so I could hear all of those great songs again. But instead I got an album that should be titled "Some of the Songs from Follies." Stephen Sondheim wrote 22 songs for the show. Yet, if one were to go by the album, there are only 18 songs, seven of which are abridged for the recording. - William A. Roscnfield.
May 30, 1971, Los Angeles Times
[Hal Prince said,] "Nothing we [he and Sondheim] do is going to get all good reviews anymore, because of the material. You can't get into anything that's serious. Did you read Walter Kerr's long piece on No, No, Nanette and how it symbolizes what musicals should be? You can't have a musical theatre of all Nanettes - all nostalgia and revivals. Follies isn't about, will the guy get the girl? or will the boat arrive in the harbor on time? It's about this country, marriage, affluence, the loss of spiritual standards. This whole nostalgia thing - I think clearly what the young people are saying is 'Give us heroes ...'"
July 24, 1971, The Christian Science Monitor
Follies (Capitol SO-761) - as the posters and album jacket visualize - is about the crack in the romantie image. Alas, the Stephen Sondheim tunes and lyrics are predominantly downbeat. As a result, the story's moody disenchantment grows tedious before side 2 and the show-within-a-show have sung themselves out. The recording points up how much Follies depends on its stage spectacle for effect.
November 24, 1971, Los Angeles Times
"Follies is not about nostalgia," [Prince] cautions. "You might say it's about growing pains. We have a tendency to approach older stars as though we were approaching serapbooks. Something they all have is enormous energy."
July 23, 1972, Los Angeles Times
Q: Would you say that the success of Follies is partly due to the current wave of interest in nostalgia?
Alexis Smith: Well, it may be for everybody else, but it isn't for me. No, Follies is about today. It's about the death of those people, and the death of the theatre and what's happened to them now, I think. That's my approach to the piece. I guess with me everything is projected in the future, and as a result I have really a very poor memory. |TSR|