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'Follies' continues to entertain audiences at The Barn Playhouse Theatre

"Follies" at The Barn Players Playhouse

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Musical theater continues to thrive in Kansas City when The Barn Players present Stephen Sondheim’s musical, “Follies”-- a show about three former Follies stars who return to the theater just prior to its demolition to reflect on their lives–continues for one more weekend through May 4.

Stephen Sondheim's Broadway bonanza, "Follies" runs weekends through May 4 at The Barn Players Playhouse in Kansas City.
Vida Bikales and Courtesy of The Barn Players

According to a Barn spokesman, “Follies” represents the largest casts they have presented. The famous stage musical opened Friday, April 18 and runs weekends through May 4, with both evening(7:30 p.m.) and Sunday matinee (2 p.m.) performances at the Theatre, 6219 Martway in Mission, KS.

“The show is a great choice for The Barn because of the wide age range of the actors needed,” Vida Bikales, board president of The Barn, said. “As a true community theatre, we try to utilize actors of all ages. And really, who doesn't like tap dancing and feathers?”

“Follies” won eight Tony Awards and tells the story of a reunion of past performers from “Weisman’s Follies,” held in a crumbling Broadway theatre, about to be replaced with a parking lot, features the music and songs that won fame over the years, Pat Paton, media director, said. “Follies” is based on the famous showman, Florenz Ziegfeld and his string of successful productions that ran from the very early 1900s through the early to mid 1930s, the “Ziegfeld Follies.”

Follies” is considered one of Sondheim’s finest musicals with songs including such Broadway classics as: “Broadway Baby,” “I’m Still Here,” “Losing My Mind,” “Rain on the Roof,” “Beautiful Girls,” “Could I leave You?,” “One More Kiss,” and a host of others.

Sondheim’s “Follies” debuted on Broadway in 1971 and included Dorothy Collins, Alexis Smith, and Yvonne De Carlo in the original cast as the divas who reunite to reminisce their life on the stage in previous Follies, similar to the famous Ziegfeld Follies.

The Barn Players’ production of “Follies” features the largest cast ever assembled in the theatre’s 59 year history and spotlights some of the area’s finest performers and singers, Pat Paton, media representative for The Barn Players, said.

“Follies” features a story within a story. The idea of "Follies" is an escape from reality especially during the 1930s. People came to the New York theaters during the depths of the Depression to escape reality. The Follies gave people a reason to smile, laugh, and escape. While the lights and glamour of the Follies depicted a happy and carefree time in the theater, reality awaited outside. And while the glitz and glamour of the beautiful girls seemed wonderful, the reality of their stories was that of loneliness and unrequited love.

Sondheim’s "Follies" successfully displays both the levity of the show and a heartbreak of the glamorous stars whose reality reflects something entirely different from what is conceived by audiences.

"Follies" begins the night before the theater that hosted them meet the wrecking ball. To make way for a new parking lot, the old theater will be demolished. Knowing the fate of the old theater, the producer of the Follies invites all of his former showgirls, comics, singers, and dancers to return for one final reunion and party. "Follies" brings together many past performers from 30 years ago, and each gets a chance to relive his or her time in the spotlight.

What makes "Follies" stand out so much from other musical theater productions is the idea of the double cast. Audiences see the performers as they are now and as a younger version of themselves in the shadows. The concept was new and fresh at the time Sondheim produced the show in 1971. Still, the concept works and Eric Mangus pared down a humongous Broadway show to fit the limited space and capabilities of the Barn Players Playhouse. With a limited stage space and few backdrops and props, Mangus took the audience on a journey back to 1971 with darker shadows of the 1930s as well. Mangus managed to utilize the stage to its maximum ability and moved the characters in and out with ease.

The story revolves around two of the famous showgirls of the Wiseman Follies and their subsequent lives. One married a cad, and the other married someone she never fully loved. The reunion focuses on their past and their marriage. Along with their story come stories of other performers who step into the spotlight of the current time and relive their time in the real spotlight of Follies.

The cast includes: Tracy Fox, John Edmonds, J.C. Dresslaer, Kipp Simmons, Peggy Mall, Anita
Meehan, Pamela Klifer, Erica Fox, Diana Strahm, Sharon Johnson, Ruth Baum Bigus, Debbie
Huffman, Dee Dee Diemer, Dennis Maddux, Ray Zarr, Paul Anderson, Victor Castillo, Pete
Barrett, Ed Downes, Sarah Bodle, Jake Leet, Alyssa Winters, Daniel Hrdlicka, Alyssa Hoedl,
Katherine Ruprecht, Zoe London, Jill Smith, Andrea Hobley, Veroncia Wood, Lakin Allen, Sam
Hay, Blaine Brungardt, Ken Koval and Miles Wirth.

Overall, the casting was strong and led by Simmons who gives a strong and direct portrayal of a man who never seemed to make the right choices and never under stood the concept or meaning of love. If a villain exists in the story, it’s he. Fox and Dresslaer compete for his attention as both younger and older versions, both with needs and both with agendas to fulfill. Edmonds convinces the audience to feel his pain of a life with a woman who always yearned for another. All of the characters need and search for the missing element of love in their lives–but only find more loneliness and emptiness.

Standout songs come from Anita Meehan as Hattie who stands front and center to explain the importance of Broadway hopefuls in “Broadway Baby.” She shows continuing need to find work on Broadway and high hopes of continues Broadway exposure. The other song that many may know and remember is “I’m Still Here” that Carlotta Campion belts to explain the heights of success and depths of misfortune. The Barn version was delivered with strength and poise by Peggy Mall.

“Follies” at The Barn included great directing from Eric Mangus superb musical direction from Tim Brasselton and good choreography from Guy Gardner. The creative crew included: Rebekah Grieb, stage manager; Meghan Newman, assistant stage manager and properties; Doug Schroeder, set and lighting designer; Joshua Finch sound design, Fran Kapono, costume designer; Michael Ong, projection designer; David Moore, assistant projection design; Jessica Alcorn, hair and makeup assistant; Alex Morales, graphic design, Chris Palmer, set construction assistant.

Lighting and projection deserve notes and praise. The projected work gave a sense of nostalgia and helped set the tone and mood for the production. Lighting, too, helped separate the pieces of the stage and allow for the audience to focus where the director wanted focus. Credit Gardner for getting an entire cast to dance and move as needed to portray the mood of the piece. Brasselton as musical director kept the piece moving with a limited band in lieu of a full orchestra.

The Barn Players’ version of “Follies” deserves sold-out crowds and standing ovations. All of the performances are strong and well executed. The music is memorable and haunting. The solid story line fills the show and moves the production. The dual story line entertains the audiences and educates them about fame, fortune, expectations, and unrequited love. The show is polished, and flows with grace. Do not miss this production.

Tickets are $18 and may be purchased on the theatre website www.thebarnplayers.org, by
calling 1-800-838-3006, or at the box office the date of the performance; discounts for seniors
and students.