Theatre / Follies

Follies is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by James Goldman. It follows two couples who go to a reunion of a Broadway theater where the "Weismann's Follies" were shown. The women, Sally Durant Plummer and Phyllis Rogers Stone, were performers who were courted by Buddy Plummer and Benjamin Stone, respectively, after one of their shows. Both couples are now deeply unhappy with their marriages. Buddy, a traveling salesman, is having an affair with a girl on the road; Sally is still as much in love with Ben as she was years ago; Ben is a super-successful businessman turned philanthropist on the verge of a mid-life crisis inspired nervous breakdown; Phylis meanwhile feels abandoned (emotionally and physically, due to his refusal to have children) by Ben and has turned cold outwardly towards her husband as a result. Several of the other former showgirls perform their old numbers, sometimes accompanied by the ghosts of their former selves.

The musical has two types of songs: character songs and pastiche songs, which are sung in-universe. The two types eventually come together in the last half hour of the show, in which each of the four major characters performs his/her nervous breakdown as a song.

Follies is considered to be Sondheim's masterpiece, though the play itself has had a long and bumpy road. The musical was a critical success but a commercial flop when it debuted in 1971, resulting in Capital Records releasing the soundtrack to the musical in a heavily butchered single LP release as opposed to the original two LP set as planned. A full soundtrack would not resurface until 1985, when the entire score was performed live for a charity benefit by a star studded cast, which was released on CD (sadly the VHS and later DVD release focused mainly on the recording of the concert). The success of "Sunday In The Park With George" and "Into The Woods" gave Sondheim and Goldman the leverage to revive "Follies" in the UK in the late 1980s, where the play finally found commercial success. However, Goldman (who had long disliked the play's dark tone and downer ending) insisted one rewriting the play to give it a much more upbeat tone and ending.Several short revivals followed (in 1998 and 2001) until 2011, when the play returned to Broadway and received a full-scale resurrection complete with a new two disk soundtrack which featured extended dialogue tracks to allow listeners to get the complete story.

This musical contains examples of:

  • The Ace: Ben Stone is considered this though deep down he feels like a total and complete fraud
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Buddy loves Sally, who is obsessively in love with Ben (who does not love her).
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: Averted
  • All There in the Manual: The original LP of the soundtrack contained a detailed plot synopsis of the play.
  • Alternate Character Interpretation: Phylis, especially after the UK rewrites replaced her "Loveland" number. The original states that Phylis is internally torn between a longing to be free and sexually desirable but poor and unloved (Juicy Lucy) or being rich and pampered and financially secured but emotionally dead due to being trapped in a loveless marriage (Dressy Jesse). The UK version of the play provides a completely different take on Phylis, one that is based upon the idea that Phylis has spent her entire life trying to be whatever it is her man wants her to be ("Ah But Underneath") and that her angst comes from knowing that, having spent her entire life being what everyone else wants her to be, that Phylis fears that she is a fraud and no one knew the real her, if there ever was a real Phylis beyond the facade she put on for those around her.
  • Betty and Veronica: Sally/Phylis/Ben and Sally/Buddy/Ben
  • Come For X Stay For Y: Come for the homages/tributes to old vaudville routines and stay for music themed nervouse breakdowns of two troubled couples on the brink of madness.
  • Cool Old Lady: Hattie Walker, and Carlotta Champion. An argument can be made for Heidi Schiller, Stella Deems, and Solange as well, but {YMMV}.
  • Cut Song: "All Things Bright and Beautiful" (used in the prologue), "Can That Boy Foxtrot!" and "Uptown Downtown". The musical numbers "Ah, But Underneath" (replacing "The Story of Lucy and Jessie"), "Country House", "Make the Most of Your Music" (replacing "Live, Laugh, Love"), "Social Dancing" have been incorporated into various productions. Also In-Universe, Carlotta's song was cut from the show because it got laughs despite being a sad song.
  • Depending on the Writer: The bulk of the changes to the play largely depend on how heavily John Goldman was involved in the production, as Goldman constantly tinkered and rewrote the play with every subsequent revival. However, since his death, the play has largely moved back towards the original version due to Sondheim's involvement in said revivals.
  • Despair Event Horizon: The ending, for Sally - the original script and the 2011 revival event explicitly states that her final line is one, as far as stating that the line (and its variation) "Oh Dear God; it IS tomorrow" should be spoken in a manner totally and UTTERLY devoid of all hope).
  • Downer Ending: Sally ends the play with a Despair Event Horizon ending where she realizes that she's wasted her entire life longing for a man who never loved her.
    • Bittersweet Ending: Ben has a nervous breakdown but Phylis manages to survive her trip through "Loveland" for the better having reconciled her issues and takes Ben back. Later rewrites of the play by Goldman include additional dialogue for Ben, where he flat out states that he was a jerk to Phylis because he always assumed she never loved Ben for Ben and only his money; Phylis takes Ben back and admits that marriage his hard and she refuses to give up hope that the two can reconcile.
  • Ensemble Darkhorse: Carlotta Champion and "I'm Still Here".
  • Heel Realization: Ben has one in the middle of a song.
  • Flashback: Flashbacks happen simultaneously with the current plot, with the characters being shadowed by the ghosts of their former selves. Literally.
  • In the Style of...: The musical makes the most of this trope. "Who's That Woman?" is in the style of Cole Porter's lyrics and Richard Rodger's music, "Losing My Mind" is in the style of George Gershwin's "The Man I Love," "I'm Still Here" is in the style of Harold Arlen, "One More Kiss" is in the style of Sigmund Romberg and Rudolf Fiml, "You're Gonna Love Tomorrow" is in the style of Jerome Kern, "The Story of Lucy and Jessie" is in the style of Cole Porter and Yip Harburg, "Live, Laugh, Love" is in the style of Fred Astaire, "Ah, Paris" is fully in the style of Cole Porter and "Loveland" is, of course, in the style of the Ziegfeld Follies.
  • Lost Episode: Has never been recorded professionally and unlike Assassins, no full bootleg versions of the play in it's various forms exist. Moreso the 1985 concert performance video version was 70% behind the scenes material with the songs that were featured in said video, largely featured without any context as the numbers were performed outside the context of the story. Furthermore, soundtrack versions of the musical have largely been incomplete or missing dialogue that explains the various plots and songs. It was not until the 2011 version's soundtrack was released that "Follies" was released in a manner that was remotely complete.
  • Multiple Endings: Various rewrites (initiated by John Goldman) have provided this for the play. The most notable is the UK version of Follies, which replaces Phylis and Ben's "Loveland" songs. Generally speaking, the changes tend to involve the tone of the ending as Goldman wanted the play to have a happy ending with the two couples reconciling at the end and provide hope that they will get their shit together in the end.
  • Musical Pastiche: "Rain on the Roof" is a pastiche of novelty songs, "The-God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me-Blues" is a vaudeville/Patter Song pastiche, and "Broadway Baby" is a pastiche of optimistic songs of the 1920s, like "The Best Things in Life are Free."
  • Sanity Slippage Song: FOUR of them in a row, all using some degree of Lyrical Dissonance. They are preceded by the two couples arguing with their younger selves, and their neuroses create a fantastical "Loveland" theater, wherein Sally, Phyllis, Ben and Buddy show their real and emotional lives in a sort of group nervous breakdown.:
  • Scenery Porn: Used for great effect with Loveland.
  • Triumphant Reprise: The piano part of "Beautiful Girls" comes back in "Loveland" with a full orchestra. Though the situation it reappears in certainly isn't triumphant.
  • True Companions: Deconstructed with the couples.
  • Wag the Director: For the 1985 concert version, Mandy Patinkin asked to redo "The God Why Don't You Love Me Blues" song as a solo, even though the original version featured back-up singers for the characters Margie and Sally.
    • Part of the reason for "Ah But Underneath" being created was to play to actress Diana Riggs' strength as a singer, as the actress had problems with her choreography for her character while doing the play.
  • To Good To Last: The original Broadway run of "Follies".