Follies West End

Follies West End Production Thematic Controversy

The most interesting thing about Follies debut production in London's West End, is the addition to the musical score of four new numbers, and some character line changes. The thinking behind the need to adjust, what many regard as Sondheim's genius musical score and writing talent, baffles some, and outrages others, to this day.

London Actors Working With Sondheim's Script for Follies

Danny Burstein, cast as Buddy Plummer, comments on the pre-production meetings for London's 1987 Follies revival production: ""Everyone thought it should be this way, or everybody thought it should be that way...it was good, because I had my own opportunity to form my own opinion about it, without knowing anything about it before-hand."

The cast members worked with Sondheim on the script, and the composer added a few lines, and made some changes to present characters differently. Burstein recalls he read the part as Buddy, thinking his character was "one sad-sack whiner". Sondheim wanted the character played as written, and Burstein eventually admits "... there is intelligence behind it."

Follies 1987 Production Team Influences Profits

London producer Cameron Mackintosh, now the third richest music industry person in Britain, with a net worth exceeding one billion, produced the revised London Follies in 1987. Known for his transformation of many musicals into global, highly profitable brands, Mackintosh is renowned for making remarkable revenues, exceeding original receipts generated from New York and London productions.

Follies Feminist Politic Receives the 80's Treatment

Given the feminist undertone of the original Follies story of extinct showgirls who's 'star' has waned, certain songs added in 1985, update the musical 'flavour' significantly. The addition of chorus number "Loveland" is a good example. In the story, "Loveland" is a nostalgic representation of the heights of fame, juxtaposed with the highs of love. The lyric; "Loveland, Loveland...Bells ring, fountains splash, folks use kisses 'stead of cash." seems to suggest love is always available to those who don't concentrate on money. Fame is now interpreted as wealth, which is an 80's update, in a decade which spawned the Young Upward and Coming Professional, or 'Yuppy".

Another new song, "Ah But Underneath" written by Sondheim for the Phyllis Rogers Stone character, begins with the cliché; "Never judge a book by its cover." The song goes on to exhort the hard-nosed aspects of Phyllis' character, who snares the more desirable love-interest Ben, as her husband. The song seems to infer she got her man through being; "grand, bland, brave, or brisk, or brittle, anything required, both concerned, and strictly, non-committal - and a little tired."

The 80's saw women launching serious careers en-masse, for the first time in history, wearing shoulder pads and bruising their way to the top. This enhancement of Phyllis's character as a strong, determined, woman, is undone, by what some might call a final misogynistic line; "sometimes when the wrappings fall, there's nothing underneath at all."

Sondheim Song Additions Inform Future Cultural Stereotypes of Women

In the early 90s, it is possible some remained infuriated by Sondheim's brilliantly appropriate, but commercial, song additions to Follies West End in 1987. TV series Desperate Housewives, Series 4, episode 2, is entitled, "Ah, But Underneath". The content of the episode explores how dead character, Mary Alice, discovers disgustingly, immoral, secrets, kept by all her living women friends in the neighbourhood. The plot tone suggests successful women compromise their morality; so if a woman is successful, she definitely doesn't 'have it all'. Desperate Housewives has Sondheim references in almost every episode title, so to gain an update on how Sondheim's work is interpreted in the late 90s and early 00s, the series is worth exploring with that in mind.

Highly clichéd song additions to Follies West End, saw the musical run for 644 performances in London. Looking back, perhaps Sondheim would consider the origin of the phrase "you sold me down the river", for an explanation as to why New York's Broadway revivals since that time have stuck closer to the original 1971 score. Sondheim's premiere score and story, explored the hardships women suffer when climbing the ladder of fame. The 'ballsier' enhancements to the '87 Follies West End production, add something new to Follies' themes. Whether this represents Sondheim's original artistic vision, remains a controversial topic.