new production of Follies at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and a new documentary about Chicago-based musician Andrew Bird.
Follies at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater features four absolutely dynamite lead performances. I went in fully primed for either a letdown or an unwieldy staging of this supposedly unmanageable show. What I saw was a character and mood-driven piece filled with great music, unconcerned with "plot." Maybe -- as fellow erstwhile Culturephile Brendan said as we left the theater -- we've been taught how to watch Follies thanks the movie musical of Chicago. And while I agree with that, I also think we've been taught to watch Follies by 1) listening to the music from Follies over and over again, 2) watching all the plotless, character-driven, music-filled shows that Sondheim &co have written since 1973, and 3) generally coming around to see musicals as plays with music rather than the corny & inauthentic Zigfeldian spectacles that Follies both eulogizes and buries. We've gotten to a place, culturally, where we don't always expect a Les Mis-style powerpack of plot when we go see a musical. Follies is interior, memory-based, and reflective -- full of great music and great songs strung in a row, sung by a crew of supersonic talents. What's not to like?
I was equally impressed with the artistry and beauty of Andrew Bird: Fever Year -- a concert film blended with a documentary film about one of our all-time favs here at the Culturephiles. It's an elegant and lovely film that has some weird controversy attached. Having seen the film now, I see no reason for there to by any controversy whatsoever -- it paints everybody in a lovely and musical light. Fully 65% of it is concert footage, but the best part of the film are the fascinating little peeks into Bird's creative process and a tantalizing smidgeon of personal life. I mean, I'm talking JUST a smidgeon. Nevertheless, I'm only more impressed now with Andrew Bird's talent and thoughtfulness -- and some of his theatricality onstage actually wouldn't be out of place in a modern-day follies.
On the one hand, it's too bad that Fever Year will only screen in festivals -- I would have liked it to find a wider audience -- but as the director Xan Aranda said in her talk-back after the showing, there's something lovely and communal about sharing the experience with a certain group in a specific time and place and a limited setting...kind of like the spirit and joy of an Andrew Bird concert.