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Dear Kennedy Center publicists: Do I need to take you out to lunch more? (Erm, I mean, do I need to take you out to lunch, ever?) Because when I get your press release at the exact same moment The Washington Post publishes the story you have seemingly fed it, it makes me feel like I’m not sucking up enough.
But back to the news. On the one hand: Wooooooooo! A singer indelibly identified with Sondheim — viz. Sunday in the Park, Into the Woods — gets a crack at one of his masterworks. (For the longer version of this “Woooo,” see Peter Marks’ take, with which I have no actual beef.) And Bernadette Peters isn’t just joining Follies; she’ll be playing Sally, the tormented sweetheart at the center of the show.
Also on the first hand: A $6 million budget? Sweet. Follies works best, aficionados argue, when there’s money for spectacle. (Caveat: A cast of 41 and a 28-piece orchestra are going to be expensive. And if that second big-name actress the Post hints at is big-name enough to command serious money — come ye now to the comments, and speculate with me about who might be a sufficiently fiery Phyllis — the sets-and-costumes budget may be what gets squeezed.)
On the other hand: Peters certainly has the chops, musical and emotional, to sell Sally’s two signature songs — she’s been slaying audiences at the Broadway revival of A Little Night Music with a devastating take on one of Sondheim’s most poignant numbers. But not everyone will agree with that Post story’s assessment, courtesy of the man with the most to gain from making it, that she’s a “superstar.”
Heresy, I know. (And I cower, anticipating the rain of stones.) But as one of my savvier theater-watching friends noted just now, Night Music has been making roughly $350,000 less each week since Peters stepped in for the departing Catherine Zeta-Jones, who’d pretty consistently kept sales at 95 percent of capacity and higher, with ticket prices averaging $115. With Peters (and Elaine Stritch, who replaced Angela Lansbury), the show is currently managing capacity numbers in the mid-80-percents — and that’s at an average price of $81, which suggests pretty steep discounts at the TKTS booth.
Another theater writer I know suggests that Peters, at 62, may be a touch mature to play Sally, described in the stage directions as “blonde, petite, sweet-faced and, at forty-nine, still remarkably like the girl she was thirty years ago.” Dorothy Collins would’ve been 45ish in the show’s original production; Light in the Piazza mom Victoria Clark, who’s 50, played Sally in the recent Encores staging.
To this concern I say “Piffle.” Peters is perennially kewpie — just look at this Sara Krulwich shot from that Times review — and the dark arts of a Broadway hair and makeup team is not to be dismissed lightly. Certainly not in a house as big as the Eisenhower.
Bottom line: I for one don’t give a rat’s ass whether Peters can sell tickets or not. And I’m not even sure I care whether she comes off as age-appropriate. That voice, saucy and haunting and gorgeous and always on the edge of shorting itself out, is enough to make me think she’ll be a fascinating fit for the part of a woman who sings raptly, romantically about losing her mind for love. God knows I’ve nearly lost my own often enough, listening to her.