Her rendition of Sally’s torch-song pastiche, the glorious “Losing My Mind,” might not garner the loudest applause on an evening when audiences cheer the various deserving stars often — and no group more than the assorted mature ladies led by Terri White, who tap-dance with elan to the delicious “Who’s That Woman?” Still, “Losing My Mind” is a stunner: Peters sings as if in the grip of a near catatonic spell, the lyrics enveloping her in a choking swoon of despair.
“Follies” is the portrait of two marriages in extremis, bonds that are coming apart as the couples mingle with other show-business fossils at a reunion of ex-showgirls on the stage of a grand old theater, about to be turned into a parking lot. If the show, set in the early ’70s, once seemed to be about decay and loss of faith in a crumbling society, this new version, directed by Eric Schaeffer and choreographed by Warren Carlyle, for the most part wears a kinder, more sentimental face.
This softer “Follies” lacks the shattering edge of the original, when director Harold Prince and his choreographer Michael Bennett evoked in the young ghosts of the Follies girls who float across the stage the terrifying sense of the ravages of time and the approach of death. The creative team behind this production has made the calculation that old age ain’t so bad after all; it’s sort of a baby boomer’s vision of “Follies.”
So if the evening doesn’t resonate with much aching authority, it’s packed with entertainment. These dames still know how to light up a stage. And there’s much more to savor in this treatment since it played a sold-out run in the Eisenhower Theater. The delights now include a lighter, tighter portrayal by Elaine Paige of the boozy floozy Carlotta. She’s turned the has-been Carlotta into a funnier, and therefore sexier, creature, and her barn-burning survivor song, “I’m Still Here,” really is a show-stopper.
What’s happened is that everyone is now playing at the level established by the Washington installment’s two standard-bearers, Jan Maxwell and Danny Burstein. As before, Maxwell’s bitter Phyllis — Sally’s erstwhile romantic rival — cuts a striking, smashing figure, and Burstein reprises his invigoratingly anguished turn as Sally’s husband, Buddy. Ron Raines, too, feels like a better fit than previously as Phyllis’s steely, worldly mate, Ben.