Iowa City Community Theatre presents story of love in the face of destruction in ‘Follies’

The show tells the story of actors returning to their old theater company one last time before the building is destroyed and depicts the feelings they have of seeing old friends. The performance ran April 28-30 and will continue May 5-7.


Contributed by Nick Rudzianski

Emma Gaughan, Arts Reporter

In a bittersweet story of love, aging, and theater, the Iowa City Community Theatre’s production of “Follies” began April 28-30 and will continue May 5-7. The show is the final show of the theater’s 2022-2023 season.

“Follies,” written by James Goldman with music by Stephen Sondheim, tells the story of two unhappy couples returning to their old theater for one last time before it is demolished. As the couples and their friends explore their old theater through musical numbers and conversation, pieces of the past return to them, and they must reconcile past loves and losses.

The production is directed by Josh Sazon, who has been involved in the theater for nearly 20 years. Originally, the theater planned on performing “Follies” three years ago and was finally able to make it happen this year. At the time that it was meant to be performed, the theater’s building was set to be demolished, making it a particularly timely musical.

While the show takes place in the 1970s, it reflects much of the past, as the characters began their careers in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Sazon said that social and idealistic changes in American society are well represented within the musical and what the characters go through.

“For lack of a better word, the ideals of American society were pretty much falling apart,” Sazon said. “This was wonderfully reflected by the musical and what was going on with the characters throughout the show. So that’s also part of the appeal for me at least.”

Sazon shared that “Follies” is one of Sondheim’s lesser-known musicals, and the music can be difficult to learn. The actors did not use microphones and had to learn difficult music and how to sing it loud enough for the audience to hear. Still, the cast and crew persevered to put on a wonderful production.

“I think it has one of the catchiest scores that he has ever done,” Sazon said.

The music director of the show is Wes Habley, who has been doing musical theater for over 40 years and has been involved with the theater for the past 15 years. While Habley directs the orchestra, he said that is only a fraction of his job throughout the production.

Habley was responsible for most musical aspects of the show, including recruiting musicians for the performances. Habley was also on the team in 2020 when the production was originally meant to be performed and is looking forward to finally being able to do the show.

“It means a lot to me that, having waited two and a half years in preparation to do this show, and finally watching it reach fruition, which is cool,” Habley said.

Like Sazon, Habley also spoke on the music’s difficulty. However, he shared that after waiting more than two years, he was excited to finally hear it all come together.

“There was wild anticipation, and the reality of it was just amazing,” Habley said.

The production includes actors who are more experienced as well as actors who have never performed before, making it an exciting experience for everyone involved, said choreograpger Taylor Gomez.

Gomez was also a part of the performance on stage as a part of the ensemble as well as the role of Margie for a scene toward the end as the characters begin to reconcile and learn about themselves.

“I think the biggest takeaway is not to get so caught up in the things that you think you want or you thought you wanted but to be more appreciative for the gifts that are right in front of you and that you already have,” Gomez said.

They said the show, which revolves around old friends, love, and family, was also like a big family backstage.