Have "Follies," will travel. That's the relationship some of us have developed over the years with what may be the most beautiful showbiz musical of all time. Beautiful, and difficult -- in the three decades since its Broadway debut, this quintessential Stephen Sondheim show has been staged a number of times only to come up on most occasions disappointingly short of the original, a ravishing production directed by Harold Prince.
Now Eric Schaeffer, artistic director of Signature Theatre and a leading Sondheim interpreter, is taking a crack at this mammoth show. It's a project that ranks as one of the most eagerly anticipated of the spring. With a cast of 35, it will also be the most ambitious production in Signature's 13-year history.
It's a natural for Schaeffer at this point in his career. He cemented his credentials with his successful stewardship of the Kennedy Center's Sondheim Celebration last summer. But "Follies," a musical about shattered illusions, can shatter a director's, too; the central story of two ex-showgirls and the dispiriting cul-de-sacs into which their lives have fallen can easily devolve into soap opera.
What Schaeffer comes up with -- the run starts April 1 -- is just one of the intriguing issues that will preoccupy Washington theatergoers in the next few months. At the Shakespeare Theatre, for instance, there will be a homecoming of sorts. Jane Alexander, veteran of the stage -- and erstwhile political animal -- is making her first major theater appearance here since she stepped down as head of the National Endowment for the Arts.
And in a play by a writer renowned for works of social conscience, Henrik Ibsen, no less. In "Ghosts," Alexander plays Helen Alving, trapped in a stifling household with a son who's inherited syphilis from a corrupted father. As an added enticement, the June production is being staged by Edwin Sherin, Alexander's husband. Back in the 1960s, Sherin directed her and another actor of some repute, James Earl Jones, in Arena Stage's original production of "The Great White Hope."
A new drama being co-produced by Woolly Mammoth and Theater J holds out hope for some excitement over original work. Neena Beber's "Jump/Cut" arrives at the DC Jewish Community Center's Goldman Theater later this month. In "Jump/Cut," Beber, a talented playwright with a piquant sense of humor, tells the story of Paul, a young filmmaker, and his girlfriend, Karen, who decide to turn their manic-depressive friend Dave into their newest movie project. The play, directed by Leigh Silverman, features Eric Sutton, Colleen Delany and Christopher Duva.
Meanwhile, a troupe with a bit more of an international profile, the Royal Shakespeare Company, takes up residence at the Kennedy Center in late April with a new production of "As You Like It," staged by Gregory Thompson in his RSC directorial debut.