Into the Past

Against this is the vivid presence of some first-quality musical theater icons: Marge Champion and Donald Saddler drift elegantly through an old-style dance; Betty Garrett's wistful rendering of "Broadway Baby" adds an unexpected color to the show's palette; Joan Roberts, a mere 58 years after Oklahoma!, still has the crystal-bell tones for "One More Kiss" (a pity no one's taught them to her younger self). Best of all is Polly Bergen, who sustains the marathonic, verbally tricky "I'm Still Here" while hurdling the setbacks of Marshall's staging, which has her drift from spot to spot as if working the tables in a cabaret—the exact antithesis of the song's sense.

Still, it's Follies, a nightmarishly demanding and costly show that will never wholly work and almost never be performed at full strength. This so-so, underweight, resident-theater production is as much Follies as you're likely to see for some years. And Sondheim's score, however tinkered with, orchestrally reduced, and electronically mucked about, only lives and has meaning in the theater. Besides, for all its built-in flaws, the work is so teeming with life that even in this underwhelming form it offers more secondary pleasures than I have space to list.

Joan Roberts and Brooke Sunny Moriber in Follies: tonal recall
photo: Joan Marcus
Joan Roberts and Brooke Sunny Moriber in Follies: tonal recall


By James Goldman
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Belasco Theatre
111 West 44th Street

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
By Dale Wasserman, based on Ken Kesey's novel
Royale Theatre
Broadway and 45th Street

Stones in His Pockets
By Marie Jones
Golden Theatre
Broadway and 45th Street

Gary Sinise confronts a different past in the Steppenwolf revival of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: the rebellious '60s—not as they were, but as they were marketed. I've always shunned Ken Kesey's novel, mainly because of exposure to Dale Wasserman's clubfooted 1963 stage version. A 1971 Off-Broadway revival ran interminably, leading to the 1975 film. Now here's Sinise, with a gleam in his eye and Jack Nicholson's inflections in his inner ear, stomping his way through this one-dimensional claptrap, in which men aren't really crazy, just beaten down by "ball-cutting" mothers, wives, and nurses with unpleasant names like Ratched. Amy Morton plays the "big nurse," sensibly if wanly, as if she were the only sane person onstage. But, you know, it's Steppenwolf, so in Terry Kinney's staging everyone, including Morton, has to scream and go apeshit at least once. Accordingly, this is the evening in which a psychiatric R.N. behaves as though she's never seen a dead body before. But everything up to that point is so specious it hardly matters.

Not so much specious as two-faced is Stones in His Pockets, a mild cabaret entertainment padded out to theater length. Two droll and gifted performers, Sean Campion and Conleth Hill, directed with some ingenuity by Ian McElhinney, nevertheless manage to outstay their welcome by a good hour while chronicling the clash between a movie company on location and a townful of Irish extras with brogues and resentments thicker than peat. They do so not only because the material in Marie Jones's script is so familiar, but because it's weighed down with reverse-snob attitudes and other tiresome forms of self-importance. Jones hasn't noticed that siding with the peasants against the moguls is a strictly Hollywood thing to do—even when the moguls are from Hollywood; she seems to think all the clichés about Ireland were invented in Southern California. Someone should explain to her about Boucicault and Fiske O'Hara.

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