Ron Fassler
8 min readJun 21, 2024


A repurposed logo of David Byrd’s original poster for “Follies” for the one-night only concert at Carnegie Hall, June 20, 2024.

June 21, 2024: Theatre Yesterday and Today, by Ron Fassler.

Last evening, June 20, 2024, for one night only, a fundraiser for the New York Transport Group Theatre filled Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium-Perelman Stage to the rafters. Nearly 3,000 people were in attendance, all present to drink in the sumptuous score to Stephen Sondheim’s 1971 landmark musical Follies. For most, it was a revisit to the show that Sondheim himself considered his favorite, enriched by its magical Jonathan Tunick orchestrations, under the baton of Joey Chancey and a thirty-piece orchestra. I can’t imagine anyone there was hearing it for the first time, though there probably were a few scattered among the fanatics (and I say fanatics in the most endearing way possible). Its specially curated cast featured more than fifty of some of Broadway’s most enduring artists, starting with the ninety-three-year-old Hal Linden, who handsomely kicked things off as Dimitri Weissman, the creator of his eponymous “Weissman Follies,” welcoming one and all “to our first and last reunion… a final chance to glamorize the old days, stumble through a song or two and lie about ourselves a little.” I can’t tell you how touching it was to see this old pro still at it, in total command of the text and engaging with us so warmly. His connection to a Broadway long past (Linden made his debut in 1956 as an understudy to Sydney Chaplin in Bells Are Ringing), wasn’t lost on a single soul.

Linden then handed things over to “the inevitable Roscoe.” But instead of an old timer with a shaky tenor to warble “Beautiful Girls,” we were transported through time and greeted by the sounds of a Young Roscoe in the form of Christian Marc Gibbs, who sang in a voice so rich and full it sent shivers up the spine. Then came, one by one, nearly all the women who would make up the spectacular cast fulfilling the expectations of everyone who’d been dreaming of the moment since they purchased their tickets two months ago. According to co-host Ted Chapin, the entire theatre was sold out within an hour (I personally set an alarm so I wouldn’t forget to be at my computer the minute they went on sale).

Christian Marc Gibbs and Hal Linden take their bow together as Roscoe and Dimitri Weissman.

The program listed the cast but not who would be singing which songs. It leant an air of mystery and kept the audience’s eyes on the stage instead of in their programs trying to figure out who came next. Things flowed beautifully from a first act that ended with a standing ovation for a spectacular “Who’s That Woman?” led by a game-for-anything Karen Ziemba and a bevy of theatre royalty dancing behind her that included Michele Pawk and Dana Moore (among others), to an Act Two opener of the show stopping “I’m Still Here,” as reimagined by a ferocious Jennifer Holiday. Was that really Jennifer Holiday I was seeing from just a few feet away? It doesn’t seem possible it’s the same woman I saw onstage at the first Saturday matinee of Dreamgirls in 1981, just after its opening night earlier in the week. And one of the dancers strutting her stuff in “Who’s That Woman?” was a seventy-six-year-old Margo Sappington, one of the three “Turkey Lurkey Girls” in the Michael Bennett staging of that incredible dance number from 1968’s Promises, Promises (Baayork Lee, one of the other in the trio was in the audience and Donna McKechnie surely would have been there had she not been five blocks away onstage as Madame Morrible in Wicked).

Directed stylishly by Jack Cummings III with a firm hand, the show was co-hosted by the aforementioned Ted Chapin, the former head of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization and one-time President of the American Theatre Wing. But to this crowd, Chapin is renowned as the author of Everything Was Possible, the essential chronicle based on his personal diaries when he was a production assistant on Follies fifty-three years ago. He was a most congenial host and he helped move things along with aplomb.

Joining him in reminiscences and fun facts was Kurt Peterson, who created the role of Young Ben in its original production. At the end of the long evening, when it was time for the final number, Ben’s “Live, Laugh, Love,” I wasn’t checking the program and had run out of who was left to perform this splendid number in my head. Peterson, after speaking of the circumstances of why Ben sings the song at this moment in the show, then got off his stool and said, “And I’m going to sing it myself.” Now silver-haired, he’d actually once done a full production of Follies with his three former young counterparts as Buddy, Phyllis and Sally (Harvey Evans, Virginia Sandifur and Marti Rolph). That was in Michigan twenty-one years ago, and last night, Peterson launched into the song with more than enough panache to spare. And before doing so, the actual cane the great John McMartin once used for “Live, Laugh, Love” was tossed to him by Chapin, with Peterson fondly saying, “it’s on loan out tonight from the love of John’s life, Charlotte Moore.”

It was that kind of evening.

The entire company, orchestra, and chorus take their bows on the stage of Carnegie Hall.

Every song was a highlight, truly. It would take forever to break it all down one by one, but a few bare special mention:

The elegance and charm factor of Falsettos’ alumni Stephen Bogardus, Carolee Carmello and Barbara Walsh, joined by Thom Sesma for “Waiting Around for the Girls Upstairs: Adriane Lenox putting her own personal stamp on “Broadway Baby,”Alexander Gemignani with a brilliant version of the complex “Road You Didn’t Take”; Christine Ebersole astounded with “In Buddy’s Eyes”; “Who’s That Woman?” has to be mentioned again because not only was it very, very special, but it was choregraphed by Mary Jane Houdina, assistant to Michael Bennett on the original production reproducing his famous choreography); a stunning “Too Many Mornings from Nikki Renee Daniels and Norm Lewis; Michael Berresse tearing into “The Right Girl” with guts and passion, creating the one-act play the song rightly requires; A “One More Kiss” from Harolyn Blackwell and Mikaela Bennett that was almost literally to die for; Santino Fontana effortlessly punching out all the intricate words to “The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me-Blues” (does this actor every break a sweat?); a feral “Could I Leave You?” from Beth Leavel; Kate Baldwins’ elegant and heartbreaking “Losing My Mind” and a rip-roaring “Story of Lucy and Jesse” from Alexandra Billings, who took the stage like nobody’s business and belted with the best of them.

Applause, Applause.

When Follies first opened, it provided a nostalgic look back at a time in the history of Broadway when shows of its kind started ceasing to existence. In the fifty-three years since, we’ve had a bunch of spectaculars to rival it in splendor, but barely any hit the bullseye as this one did in both pageantry and depth of feeling; hard to pull off then, maybe impossible to do so now.

In the end, the evening belonged to Stephen Sondheim, as it should have. But it wasn’t only his ghost that hovered. It felt as if everyone was in the room, from its one-of-a-kind original cast that consisted of the late Dorothy Collins, Yvonne De Carlo, Harvey Evans, Mary McCarty, John McMartin, Gene Nelson, Sheila Smith, Ethel Shutta and Alexis Smith, not to mention the creatives: Boris Aronson, Bob Avian, Michael Bennett, James Goldman, Harold Hastings, Fritz Holt, Florence Klotz, Joanna Merlin, Ruth Mitchell, Tharon Musser, Harold Prince. All gone now, never forgotten.

Just when the evening looked like it was all over, Kurt Peterson took a moment to bring up one of the great stories connected to the show. It was about Harvey Evans, who passed in 2021, much beloved by the entire theatre community. He said, “Harvey always he wanted his tombstone to say, ‘Here lies Harvey Evans. He was in ‘Follies.’” Petersen looked heavenward and sang the words, “Hey up there, way up there, whaddaya say up there.”

There will always be Follies ghosts to contend with (it’s what the show was all about). But when things come to life in the present the way they did last night, all is right with the world for two and half-hours, and for that we must be grateful — forever grateful — for Follies.

Here’s the song list for the entire show:

FOLLIES In Concert

“Prologue” — Joey Chancey and the Follies Orchestra

Hosts — Ted Chapin and Kurt Peterson

“Beautiful Girls” — Weissman — Hal Linden, Roscoe — Christian Mark Gibbs

“Don’t Look at Me” — Katie Finneran and Marc Kudisch

“Waiting for the Girls Upstairs” — Stephen Bogardus, Carolee Carmelllo, Thom Sesma, Barbara Walsh, Julie Benko, Hannah Elless, Grey Henson, Ryan McCartan

“Rain on the Roof” — Klea Blackhurst and Jim Caruso

“Ah, Paris!” — Isabel Keating

“Broadway Baby” — Adriane Lenox

“The Road You Didn’t Take” — Alexander Gemignani

“In Buddy’s Eyes” — Christine Ebersole”

“Who’s That Woman?” -Karen Ziemba, Mamie Duncan-Gibbs, Ruth Gottschall, JoAnn M. Hunter, Dana Moore, Michele Pawk, Margo Sappington;
Tap Dancers — Lauren Blackman, Julianna Brown, Jessica Chambers, Candice Hatakeyama, Alicia Lundgren, Abby Matsusaka, Erin M. Moore

“I’m Still Here” — Jennifer Holliday

“Too Many Mornings” — Norm Lewis and Nikki Renee Daniels

“The Right Girl” — Michael Berresse

“One More Kiss” — Harolyn Blackwell, Mikaela Bennett

“Could I Leave You?” — Beth Leavel


“You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow”/”Love Will See Us Through” — Miguel Gil, Olivia Elease Hardy, Fernell Hogan, Nina White (the young people from the original cast of Kimberly Akimbo)

“Buddy’s Blues” — Santino Fontana

“Losing My Mind” — Kate Baldwin

“The Story of Lucy and Jessie” — Alexandra Billings

“Live, Laugh, Love” — Kurt Peterson


Follies played June 20, 2024 for one night only at Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium-Perelman Stage, 881 7th Avenue, NYC. For further information for future events from the Transport Group Theatre, please visit their website at https://transportgroup.org.

If you enjoyed this column, please check out Up in the Cheap Seats: A Historical Memoir of Broadway, available at Amazon.com in hardcover, softcover and e-book and visit my website at www.ronfassler.org.



Ron Fassler

Author, playwright, director, actor, theatre critic and historian, his book, “Up in the Cheap Seats,” is available at Amazon.com.