The Michigan Daily-Saturday, June 2, 1979-Page 7
Civic' painfu sta at Sondheim
By JOSHUA PECK
Visit the Power Center this weekend
if you want to see a marvelous show.
Stay away if you want to avoid a dreary
production of it.
It's a shame that there are no awards
for ambition in theatre, for Ann Arbor
Civic would win a Tony in that
category. Civic has staged the pivotal
work of a composer who is almost
singly responsible for bringing true
legitimacy to the American musical
theatre. There is a deeply entrenched
idea that avarice, adultery, antipathy,
and other dark aspects of the human
character are subjects fit only for far-
Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman.
May 31, June 1,2,3
Sally Durant Plummer.
Phyllis Rogers Stone...
senjamin Stone ....
Young Ben ............ .
Buddy Plummer .......
Young Buddy ..........
..... Mary Beth Seiler
..,,.. ob Starring
.C.... atty Hetppie
. .....John Stephens
cical and/or superficial treatment in
any play that happens to include music.
Sondheim delivered that notion a sharp
slap with Follies, as well as with his
other works. (The composer's latest,
Sweeney Todd, is currently stunning
Broadway audiences with its look at the
murkiest impulse of all - that to mur-
ADD TO ITS subject matter
vexatiously complicated trappings like
characters who are the principals'
younger selves, songs of every
imaginable style, and a cast with a
combined age of some 1200 years, and
you have a musical that calls for much
more than ambition. But Civic's Follies
has only meager helpings of anything
Follies takes place at a 1964 reunion-
farewell party for Weissman (read
Ziegfield) girls of every era. The
theatre in which the burlesque belles
once strutted their stuff is about to be
torn down so that a parking lot may be
erected in its place, and .kindly old
Weissman has invited the whole bunch
back for an evening of last looks and
fond remembrances. Among the invited
are Phyllis and Ben Stone and Sally and
Buddy Plummer, all friends from the
good old days.
Sally, it seems, once loved Ben, who
deigned to sleep with her though he in-
tended to marry Phyllis all along. This
triangle is re-enacted, first by the
ghostly doubles, then by the contem-
porary characters themselves, toward
CIVIC'S CHIEF faiings are ones it
has suffered from many times before: a
shortage of actors, singers, and dan-
cers talented enough to fill out its cast,
and direction that too often seems to be
muddled or, worse, altogether truant.
Directors Charles Sutherland and
Jim Posante's staging of the show only
occasionally seems to be attempting
ARTS STAFF: Sondra Bobroff, Sarah Cassill, Mark
Coteman, Sara Gldherg, Eri cGraig, Jock Hender-
s0n, Katie Herofeld, Anna Nissen, Christopher
Potter, Nancy Rucker, R.J. Smith, Nina Shishkoff,
Tom Stephens, Keith Tosolt
pertinence on a par with the script's
and lyrics'. Particularly in scenes
where the four principals and their
young doubles share the stage,
blocking, motivation, and charac-
terization are bungled.
Even the best directors, of course,
can't turn water into wine, and Follies'
cast is achingly aqueous. Prime culprit
is Mary Beth Seiler, whose portrayal of
Sally led my companion to ask if there
were a sniper in the house. Her singing
alternates between being too quiet and
warbling sourly. Her lines sound as if a
semi-literate is reading them off cue
cards, and it would probably be a fair
bet that Seiler sounded exactly the
same way on the second day of rehear-
JOHN STEPHENS does better, but
not much, as Sally's loving husband
Buddy. That's very surprising, as
Stephens' portrayal of the family
patriarch in Civic's You Can't Take It
With You last September. stole the
show. Here, Stephens looks as if he
wishes he were elsewhere, affecting a
vocalization that at times stops just
short of a stammer. He also seems
reluctant to look any of his fellow actors
in the eye. One can't help wondering
what has happened to shake Stephens'
confidence during these nine months.
The other two leads are much more
convincing and more sharply focused
on their motivations. Bob Starring, for
his part, squeezes a fair portion of
pathos out of his loveless plight, and
gets by on sincerity in his musical
numbers, in lieu of any vocal training.
Sandra Storrer was heralded in these
pages a year and a half ago as "the best
actress in Ann Arbor," preceded only
by a "perhaps," for her work in
Musket's Cabaret. She has done
nothing here to dissipate that claim.
Some of her shortest, most straightfor-
ward lines are the show's best: A
woman who sat next to Phyllis
(Storrer) in the dressing room during
their days in the Follies approaches her
at the party, expecting to be warmly
greeted. Storrer stares at her for a
deliciously long moment, then icily in-
tones, "You never liked me." A second
later, Storrer responds to the woman's
astonished glare with yet another fond
memory: "That's all right; I never
liked you either."
JUST ABOUT every tool available to
an actress is at Storrer's command.
Superb timing and perfectly acidic
projection of her harshest sentiments
(as well as sweet, rumination over her
gentler ones) merge to make Storrer's
performance her second brilliant one in
as many local outings.
Again, though, I must return to the
peccancy and pain of ever so much of
Follies, for those are the qualities that
settle suffocatingly on the vast
majority of the evening's proceedings.
In example, three consecutive numbers
in the first act, beginning with "Listen
to the Rain on the Roof,' test a mortal
man's tolerance. The first puts an
elderly couple (Marie Gilson and Alex
Miller) on stage for a thankfully brief
ditty with which they seem about 50 per
cent conversant. "Ah, Paris" is a sup-
posedly exotic song that shrinks to
unintelligible nattering at the hands of
Bette Ellis. "Broadway Baby" is
The six numbers that comprise the
Loveland-sequence are far less tedious
than the rest of the show, but struc-
turally, their function is just to expand
on what we already know about the dep-
th of the characters' personalities and
their histories. An expanded bauble is
just a bigger bauble.-
My advice to Ann Arbor Civic's board
of directors (as if anybody asked)
would simply be to think small. There's
really something quite pitiful about
seeing the Civic masses doing battle
with Power Center's huge stage and
house. They're just not up to it. It's as if
Mickey Mouse had taken the podium
from Stokowski in that scene in Fan-
tasia. Imagine him flailing his little
arms, thinking he could take command
of a huge orchestra solely by virtue of
determination - or ambition.
Jean Kerr, Kaufman and Hart,
Rodgers and Hammerstein are all
within the range of possibilities for a
company of Civic's talent and resour-
ces. Shakespeare and Sondheim should
be left alone.