October 4

November 13, 2011

in CST's Courtyard Theater

book by James Goldman
music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
directed by Gary Griffin

Director's Note

With Follies, Associate Artistic Director Gary Griffin stages his fifth Sondheim production at CST.

When Follies was first staged in Boston prior to its 1971 Broadway debut, theater critic Frank Rich—then a Harvard undergraduate—wrote the review for his college paper. Hal Prince was so impressed by the piece that he arranged a meeting with the student critic. Forty years later, Rich's words resonate as I explore this play, not only “about the failures of its characters and the death of a popular art form, but about the close relationship between the two.” Follies lives at the intersection between its story and the people telling it—the musicians and the actors who share its stage.

Follies is about pulling back the curtain. It takes place in a theatrical space that is about to be demolished. We wanted a set that looked both industrial—and in some way as fragile as the lives and art it has held. Our initial designs positioned the twelve-member orchestra outside the audience's view, where we would have heard them but not been conscious of their presence. The orchestration contributes a significant part of the experience. I wanted our audience to hear—and see—the music of live musicians, playing in that moment alongside our actors. They quite literally are the backdrop. They are the live elements of the scenic world. A musician, a song, a body, creates the texture of the story.

When Follies was first staged, it was the most expensive production ever staged on Broadway. I know that you cannot compete with people's imagination of what that opulence was. But what if we were able instead to take the audience to another place entirely? I hope that the presence of live musicians allows you to connect to moments differently because another dimension—visually and aurally—has been added. By appreciating the relationship between that harp and that singer in that specific moment, I am hoping that you'll see something new. This is a play about a moment that's gone. I want our production to experience the immediacy of a moment.

Our connection to musicians performing in musical theater is endangered. I can't think of a production on Broadway right now in which one is not hearing a mixed show. Many dance companies no longer incorporate live music. Pandora's box has been opened. I don't know how to express this without sounding an alarm, but I do want to ask the question: given our current financial climate, will we continue to support the art-making of live musicians in our theaters?

The event of Follies is a party. It's a reunion, and that's what we've focused upon in our production. The scenic opulence has to be part of what that world is, but in utilizing the space and scale of the Courtyard Theater I hope the experience of our production invites you into that party. From Pacific Overtures to Sunday in the Park with George and Passion, I've been exploring how these shows can become more experiential and less presentational. What I hope people will learn is that both settings reveal about this complex, haunting work, looking at it from two very different points of view.

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