The Greenwich Village Follies
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 6, 2007
The Greenwich Village Follies is a lighthearted, lightweight musical revue, being offered by Manhattan Theatre Source as part of their Straight from the Source series this summer. It features sketches and musical numbers that are generally entertaining and sometimes informative, performed by an ingratiating cast with live musical accompaniment by the composer/lyricist himself, Doug Silver, on keyboards (with Eric Laufer on percussion and the co-author Andrew Frank backstage as the show's director).
Much of the show concerns itself with the colorful history of Greenwich Village, from a song about the inhabitants of the region before the Europeans colonized Manhattan Island ("Sapokanican") to a skit about Peter Stuyvesant (incorporating a volunteer from the audience, outfitted humorously as the Dutch governor) to songs about the Triangle Factory Shirtwaist Factory fire and the Stonewall Rebellion. There are segments devoted to Village residents Edgar Allan Poe and Jackson Pollack, the latter featuring a blank white canvas enticing the alcoholic painter to "Splatter Me All Over."
My favorite parts of the show were those devoted to lesser-known Village trivia. Did you know that a group of freed slaves were granted land around Minetta Pond (!) and established a settlement in Manhattan in the 1640s? I didn't; but Frank and Silver have a sketch and song about this obscure but interesting historical fact that made me want to learn much more about it. There's also a very well-put-together segment about the institution of the rectangular street grid everywhere above Houston Street EXCEPT in Greenwich Village: "Resist the Grid" is probably the show's strongest original composition, especially as performed spiritedly by Charlie Parker (a young woman originally from Seattle who has a terrific voice and stage presence and repeatedly steals the show from her colleagues).
I also enjoyed learning about Chumley's, a '20s-era speakeasy that was the haunt of the great and near-great.
The Greenwich Village Follies, which is named after another 1920s institution (a musical revue created by John Murray Anderson that originated a the Greenwich Village Theater near Sheridan Square), often tries too hard to be lovable: there's a quiz with prizes in the middle of the show, plus a sing-along in the Stonewall number and a lot of fourth-wall breaking, mostly by John-Andrew Morrison, who is the de facto emcee. There's also too much inter-cast banter between the songs, some of it redundant because it repeats information that will be provided in the song that follows, and some of it just corny:
GUY: Last week you promised that this sketch was cut-
CHARLIE: I don't remember that. We did the number last night.
Some of the material is also too racy to allow the show to be suitable for family audiences (for example, there's a song called "Dildo"), which feels like a misstep; the show is nowhere near as edgy as I thought it might be, so it turns out that there's real potential to market this as a very audience-friendly show with just a bit of toning down.
In addition to the excellent Parker and the effusive Morrison, the cast includes perky Patti Goettlicher and charmingly boyish Guy Olivieri. The always welcome Sharon Fogarty filled the guest spot at the performance I attended with a delicious spoofy song about how "gay" the Village is.
Overall, The Greenwich Village Follies is a light-n-easy 90 minutes that, with some refocusing and sharpening, could become a neat perennial musical attraction celebrating this vibrant community of the Big Apple.