Follies | A Note from Artistic Director Bill English

Follies | A Note from Artistic Director Bill English

Follies is, perhaps, Stephen Sondheim’s greatest masterwork, yet it is seldom performed these days because of its technical demands including requiring ten triple-threat leads and a cast of over twenty. We humbly aspire to bring you a Follies that captures its genius, and perhaps, in our intimate setting, with only nine rows in the orchestra, we can bring you closer and take you deeper into the hearts of our protagonists.

Follies is many things to many people. As if to demonstrate Sondheim’s absolute mastery of musical theatre, the tunes in Follies effortlessly emulate song styles of legendary composers from Victor Herbert, Jerome Kern, Vincent Youmans, the Gershwins, Harold Arlen, Kurt Weill, Eubie Blake, Cole Porter, and Noël Coward. Follies is a love song to musical theatre.

At the same time, writing in the early ‘70s when America was reeling from the Vietnam war, racial violence, and the assassinations of our greatest leaders, Sondheim and Goldman are also grieving our loss of innocence as we awakened to the lies we told ourselves in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Many of these treasured chestnuts of the golden era of musicals are satirized as shallow and empty. The irony is that Follies represents both a tribute to the traditional musical and its requiem. Its four protagonists live in delusion and Follies is a play about how each of them fights their way out of the personal folly of their own lies into the light of truth.

Follies is also a profoundly feminist piece. Written at a time when the women’s movement was taking hold in our country, it resonates even more profoundly now. The women who are the central figures of this story were brought up to visualize themselves as objects to be adored by the male gaze. Cast in a mold where all were required to have legs of a certain length and kicks of a certain height, how would they define themselves when their time in the headdress was over? Who would they be when the wrecking ball flattened the theater?

If all that is not enough, Follies also eloquently points out the folly of living in the past, of living in regret. In the long-delayed introspection of these couples, Sondheim and Goldman plead with us to give up our regrets and live in the present, to promise
ourselves that we will live the kind of life we will never regret.

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Bill English is Artistic Director and Co-Founder of San Francisco Playhouse, and in fifteen years with Susi Damilano, has guided its growth from a bare-bones storefront to the second-largest theater in San Francisco.

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