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Memories of the Original FOLLIES 
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Post Memories of the Original FOLLIES
The New York Times ran a great retrospective piece about the original production Follies with comments from a wide range of folks who were there at the time. There is some great praise for the show from people like Tommy Tune, Elaine Stritch and Sheldon Harnick. Still, it's not an out-and-out lovefest. Barbara Cook says that she 'didn’t care about any of the characters', though as far as I'm concerned this is her problem, not the show's and its probably the reason why her Sally is so thin on character in the concert. Galt MacDermott says that 'it was fine, but it wasn’t that interesting': perhaps he didn't get it, or perhaps he is bitter that the perceived counterrevolution to his revolutionary show actually turned out to be the more dominant influence on musical theatre. I kid, of course, but I'm only half kidding. People don't have to like Follies, but people in the musical theatre industry should be able to recognise its greatness.

Of course, the best memoir of Follies is preserved in the fantastic book Everything Was Possible: the Birth of the Musical Follies, which is a peerless firsthand account of the making of a musical.

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I wish every show had a book like this to document its development. OK, not every show, but many shows have an equally interesting story behind them, I'm sure. If you haven't read this one and you have any interest the process behind the creation of musical theatre, you should make sure you track down a copy and read it as soon as you can. It is absolutely fantastic!

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Post Re: Memories of the Original FOLLIES
RainbowJude wrote:
Galt MacDermott (sic) says that 'it was fine, but it wasn’t that interesting': perhaps he didn't get it, or perhaps he is bitter that the perceived counterrevolution to his revolutionary show actually turned out to be the more dominant influence on musical theatre. I kid, of course, but I'm only half kidding. People don't have to like Follies, but people in the musical theatre industry should be able to recognise its greatness.


I find this assessment of Galt MacDermot's contribution to the Times piece a little unfair.

First of all, Galt was (and is) a jazz/rock composer, a musician at heart who got tapped to compose some scores for Broadway, and one of them became a once-in-a-lifetime blockbuster. That's left him able to do exactly what he wants ever since, which involves raising a lovely family in a nice trim home on Staten Island. He's got his band, he plays his music, and he's revered as a god by the hardcore hip-hop community who use his old jazz records as samples all the time. He's never really a part of the theater "scene" - he's all about his music. He simply stated that at the time, he didn't feel like Follies was a breakthrough musical. And given his perspective and background, it actually makes sense.

Secondly, he certainly wasn't the only person in 1971 who didn't 'get' the appeal of Follies. 1971 was simply, to many theatergoers and theater artists at the time, basically still part of the 1960s, and the Broadway musical was passe. MacDermot was describing his reaction in 1971, and he wasn't alone back then in believing Follies and Sondheim were stuck in the past. All the quotes are about the reactions to seeing the first production of Follies. MacDermot was obviously asked to say something since his musical beat Follies for Best Musical. He said what he felt when he saw the show. Why should he have to go on about the enduring (critical and academic) power of the work? That would just be a digression. Follies isn't for everyone.

Thirdly, bitter? What does he have to be bitter about? Keep in mind at the time, a lot of people greatly preferred the theatrical experience of Two Gentlemen of Verona (music by MacDermot), which won Best Musical at the Tonys over Follies that season. I truly don't think that he's bitter about anything. As I already said, MacDermot's career has always been based in jazz and orchestral, and he's been hugely successful in that arena. I don't think this is a case of a composer who hungered for more Broadway success and didn't get it. It has nothing to do with jealousy or bitterness. (He's actually one of the least bitter people I've ever known.) Even if he felt inadequate compared to Sondheim, and I think anyone is capable of that, he's crying all the way to the bank. Hair is one of the most internationally successful musicals ever written. Follies is not. Hair made money. Follies did not. Two Gentlemen of Verona won Best Musical. Follies did not.

Finally, I think you misread his comment completely. I don't think he was using the term "revolutionary" in the way you perceive. The term is often used loosely to refer to anything innovative that inspires new trends and ways of viewing things. To me, he was speaking of content. Hair was revolutionary because it was so rooted in the politics, issues, people, opinions, and sounds of the time it was written. To that effect, it would make sense Follies would be counterrevolutionary because its content was rooted in the past, memories, a forgotten era, and regret. Follies may have been revolutionary in its structure and staging (to an extent), but it is a musical about the past while Hair was about the present. Two Gentlemen of Verona was an infusion of the past (text) and present (staging and score).

I found his comment thought-provoking, as it is most definitely from a very different perspective, and not in poor taste at all. To me, he sounds sincere, which is very different from resentful. I found it far more interesting than yet more gushes and raves, which are a dime-a-dozen. It seems less like malice than simply a reflection on what he witnessed at the time. There doesn't seem to be any implication that he has anything personally against Sondheim or his works. And in any event, both Hair and Follies can be considered revolutionary shows for completely different reasons.

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Wed Aug 31, 2011 8:19 pm
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Post Memories of the Original FOLLIES
Brother Marvin Hinten, S. wrote:
I find this assessment of Galt MacDermot's contribution to the Times piece a little unfair.... He simply stated that at the time, he didn't feel like Follies was a breakthrough musical. And given his perspective and background, it actually makes sense.

I don't think it's unfair. It's what MacDermot said and, while other interpretations of it may be as valid, this reading is a valid one. If MacDermot didn't want to be perceived in this way, he should have chosen his words more carefully. He certainly has not offered any alternative perspective about his perception of the show now, so who's to stay that he still doesn't feel the impact that Follies had on musical theatre?

Brother Marvin Hinten, S. wrote:
He certainly wasn't the only person in 1971 who didn't 'get' the appeal of Follies.... MacDermot was describing his reaction in 1971, and he wasn't alone back then in believing Follies and Sondheim were stuck in the past.

As far as I'm concerned, that isn't something that counts in his favour. It's not about getting the 'appeal' of Follies as much as it is about 'getting' Follies anyway. In 1971, Follies said something about the United States that was as valid and relevant as what Hair had to say when it first premiered. So while MacDermot wasn't alone in the way he felt, articulating that belief and and perpetuating the idea that it still may be in place, reveals that he and those other you mention, didn't actually get what Follies had to say, which was absolutely relevant to the time. Either that, or they didn't want to get it, it being the folly of America that is revealed through the action of Follies so brilliantly.

Brother Marvin Hinten, S. wrote:
Why should he have to go on about the enduring (critical and academic) power of the work? That would just be a digression. Follies isn't for everyone.

I stated quite plainly that Follies isn't for everyone. This has nothing to do with liking the show or not. But you're right, he doesn't have to make any comment on the power of the work, enduring or otherwise. Of course, that only leaves only these words as a representation of his thoughts and these words certainly do not lack ambivalence in the way that they can be read.

Brother Marvin Hinten, S. wrote:
What does he have to be bitter about? Keep in mind at the time, a lot of people greatly preferred the theatrical experience of Two Gentlemen of Verona (music by MacDermot), which won Best Musical at the Tonys over Follies that season. I truly don't think that he's bitter about anything.

Not even about the fact that hardly anyone even gives two hoots about Two Gentlemen of Verona today? Two Gentlemen of Verona is a footnote, remembered more for being the musical that won the Tony Awards over Follies than for its book or score or physical production.

Brother Marvin Hinten, S. wrote:
Even if he felt inadequate compared to Sondheim, and I think anyone is capable of that, he's crying all the way to the bank. Hair is one of the most internationally successful musicals ever written. Follies is not. Hair made money. Follies did not.

Always a joy to see that great American value of materialism being placed above all else. Material success isn't everything. Making money isn't everything. I hope MacDermot's money offers him as much comfort as you seem to think it does.

Brother Marvin Hinten, S. wrote:
Two Gentlemen of Verona won Best Musical. Follies did not.

That says more about the lack of insight about the voters than it does about either musical. Awards bodies get things wrong at least as many times as they get things right. This is one of those times when the award went to the wrong show.

Brother Marvin Hinten, S. wrote:
Finally, I think you misread his comment completely.

You're welcome to think that, but I think you're wrong.

Brother Marvin Hinten, S. wrote:
I don't think he was using the term "revolutionary" in the way you perceive. The term is often used loosely to refer to anything innovative that inspires new trends and ways of viewing things. To me, he was speaking of content. Hair was revolutionary because it was so rooted in the politics, issues, people, opinions, and sounds of the time it was written. To that effect, it would make sense Follies would be counterrevolutionary because its content was rooted in the past, memories, a forgotten era, and regret. Follies may have been revolutionary in its structure and staging (to an extent), but it is a musical about the past while Hair was about the present.

Ah, I see it all now. You don't get Follies either - not if you think it is counterrevolutionary in that sense. Follies is not a musical about the past. Follies is a musical about the present, that acknowledges the influence of the past upon it and one of its major themes is that clinging to the past can be destructive - not only personally, in terms of people and opinions, as is clearly seen in the narrative action of the show, but also politically, socially and economically. Follies is one of the great American allegories. This is less obvious than in something like Our Town, perhaps, but absolutely relevant to the time in which it was written and equally so today.

Brother Marvin Hinten, S. wrote:
I found his comment thought-provoking, as it is most definitely from a very different perspective, and not in poor taste at all. To me, he sounds sincere, which is very different from resentful.

I also found his different perspective interesting and I didn't claim in was in poor taste. I just think that, with no concrete evidence to the contrary, his open-ended comments about the show leave a great deal unsaid and therefore leave a great deal of room for inference. You are welcome to interpret it your way, if you like. I'll interpret it in mine.

Brother Marvin Hinten, S. wrote:
I found it far more interesting than yet more gushes and raves, which are a dime-a-dozen.

Some of the 'gushes' and 'raves' are at least specific in their reasoning. The interest that MacDermot's statement generates is in its open-endedness, not in its contrariness.

Brother Marvin Hinten, S. wrote:
It seems less like malice than simply a reflection on what he witnessed at the time. There doesn't seem to be any implication that he has anything personally against Sondheim or his works.

Now you're jumping into a whole new discussion. A touch of bitterness and malice are two completely different things.

Brother Marvin Hinten, S. wrote:
And in any event, both Hair and Follies can be considered revolutionary shows for completely different reasons.

Sure, but the predictions following Hair that the idiom of rock music would completely take over musical theatre and spur it onward to new heights turned out not to be the revolution it seemed to promise at the time. The influence of Follies can be felt as keenly in something like Next to Normal as can the influence of Hair. The difference is that popular music forms would have found their way into musical theatre anyway, with Hair or without it. Follies is one of a series of musical collaborations that would fundamentally influence the way that the musicals of the future would be written.

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Sat Sep 03, 2011 5:55 am
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