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November 02, 2017

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Nick

I am so jealous that I am unable to get to London for the production of Follies. I have been a Stephen Sondheim fan for about 45 years ever since seeing his Company in London, a show whose music I at first did not appreciate but that soon changed. I managed to catch Follies in the 2001 Broadway revival and was totally enchanted.

There is a lovely anecdote about the song "Who's That Woman?" in the splendid book of Sondheim's annotated lyrics of his early musicals - Finishing The Hat. I am sure you and the publisher will not mind my quoting it here. Sondheim writes -

"I had conceived the number as a routine for Stella and five older chorines as her backup, the sixth one having died. I thought it would be poignant fun to see geometric dancing patterns with an empty space in the middle, and Michael Bennett [the show's choreographer who was later to create a sensation with A Chorus Line] seemed to agree, Therefore I was surprised, not to say irritated, when I showed up at rehearsal one day to find him coaching Stella and all six in a perfectly conventional, geometric tap routine. When I grumbled to him that I would never have written such a banal song without the bizarre twist that accompanied and justified it, he told me that it wouldn't work and that he had come up with a better idea . . .

"I tucked my brilliant idea under my arm and quietly slunk home, while Michael went on to devise one of the most brilliantly staged numbers in Broadway history (and very Broadway it was). His idea: have the six older ladies start their routine and then be joined by the mirror-costumed ghosts of their younger, beautiful selves, true reflections of their pasts. What Michael did was take a lightweight, semi-camp pastiche lyric and mime it for all its emotional resonances as well as its imagery. . . Michael ignored my scenario, but it did give him the springboard for the glory he came up with."

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