Arts & Leisure

“Follies” ties past, present delightfully

"FOLLIES" on stage now at the Gem Theatre in Garden Grove recalls the golden age of musical theater (OMP photo).

“FOLLIES” on stage now at the Gem Theatre in Garden Grove recalls the golden age of musical theater (OMP photo).

By Thom deMartino

The ghosts of paths we did not take may not have to haunt us: it’s just a question of if, when, and where we find the strength to face and exorcise them.

One More Production’s staging of a concert version of “Follies” at the Gem Theatre in Garden Grove reflects magnificently, gorgeously and entertainingly on those themes

stagereviewbugIt’s been 30 years since the cast graced the stage of “Weismann’s Follies,” but with the impending transition of the theater into a parking lot, Dimitri Weismann (Tim Klega) has reunited the cast once more to reminisce and say their goodbyes to what was such a formative part of their lives, so many years ago.

Former showgirls Sally Durant Plummer (Adriana Sanchez) and Phyllis Rogers Stone (Clare Perry) were friends and roommates back in that day, both now (unhappily) married: Sally to Buddy Plummer (Damien Lorton), Phyllis to Ben Stone (Tom Patrick), their respective beaus, back in those heady years. With the reunion resurrecting old memories and passions, both couples find themselves wondering what could have been on the roads they did not take – if only Ben had proposed to the lovelorn Sally instead of Phyllis, if Phyllis hadn’t compromised her dreams to marry Ben, and if Buddy hadn’t been so in love with Sally, despite knowing how she longed for her errant suitor.

The present mingles with the past as the couples and the rest of the cast reflect on days long gone, while the shadows of their younger selves stride among them, echoing the memories, dreams and glories of yesteryear. With the moving, emotive music of the orchestra to frame their reveries, “Follies” vocalists such as Stella Deems (Debbi Ebert), Hattie Walker (Shannon Page), Emily Whitman (Peggy Magee) and Solange LaFitte (Kelli Hines) reprise the songs of their youth, now performed that much more richly and passionately with the perspective of age and experience.

ELABORATE costumes are part of the pleasure in "Follies," now on stage at the Gem Theatre in Garden Grove (OMP photo).

ELABORATE costumes are part of the pleasure in “Follies,” now on stage at the Gem Theatre in Garden Grove (OMP photo).

While the younger versions of Sally, Phyllis, Ben and Buddy (Nicole Cassesso, Ashley Montgomery, Alex Bodrero and Colby Hamann, respectively) walk among them and play out the decisions and moments they can’t put behind them, the elder versions struggle to discover for themselves whether this reunion is a chance to set things back on the paths that could have been, or to come to terms with their own ghosts of what was left behind.

The show must go on, as they say, and the players exemplify that maxim: despite the onslaught of ‘the plague” (an extremely bad dose of the seasonal flu that nearly hobbled the cast), the show has still managed to rise above it all. While some roles for the premiere needed to be filled on short notice, the understudies and the rest of the “Follies” cast made it work, despite all (viral) obstacles.

The full orchestra brings an unmistakable richness to the performance, and solos by Ebert (“Who’s That Woman?”) and Page (“Broadway Baby”) are a beautiful and sentimental throwback to a time of live theater and musicals, so lacking in this day and age. The entire cast knocks it out of the park, in that not only is the audience entertained by the more mature “Follies” cast and their younger doppelgangers, but emotionally invested in the passion and struggles of the elder Sally, Phyllis, Ben and Buddy as they negotiate their own labyrinths of desire, regret, and hope. The lavish, shimmering costumes in some of the numbers dazzle, a reminder of days before television and the digital revolution, when musical theater was all the rage.

greatmovielogoWhile good community theater can still be found in some local areas, it’s always a struggle to get audiences to pull themselves away from their digital addictions to come out to a show. Nicole Cassesso, who stars in “Follies” as young Sally, is one of the founders of the One More Productions company that is resident at the Gem, and acknowledges the value of those who come out to the performances.

“We’re so blessed, each time we come here and open a show, it’s amazing,” she says. “Someone is going to get home from work and they’re going to change their clothes, and get in their car to come here and watch what we do … we’re really blessed, we have some really great audience members.”

“Follies” will only be playing until Sunday, Feb. 19, so audiences looking forward to seeing it should catch it soon: next up for the Gem is “Always, Patsy Cline,” returning by popular demand in March, after a successful and sold-out 2016 run.

Follies.” Adriana Sanchez, Clare Perry, Damien Lorton and Tom Patrick star in this story of coming to terms with the reality of your dreams. Playing Feb. 16 -19 at The Gem Theater, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove, CA, 92840. Call 714-741-9550 x221 or e-mail for ticketing information. Appropriate for all ages.

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