“Follies” is every musical theater nerd’s favorite casting puzzle. It takes names that evoke nostalgia for the showbiz past, but also nifty triple threats that fit the characters – and each other. Below is a look at the artists who made the six lead roles, and a selection of those who have followed over the past 50 years. Plus: Our dream cast for the revival of 2046, when “Follies” will be 75 years old and the nostalgia will be for today.
Excellent. Wealthy. Unfaithful. Depressed.
Of all the original stars of “Follies” only John McMartin came without any nostalgic luggage. He was a stage actor first – and so Ben, a philanthropist and retired politician, has been cast ever since.
For the Encores 2007! Production, the four-time Tony nominee Victor Garber was Ben from Donna Murphys Phyllis. The couple looked perfect together, like a president and a first lady.
To revive the 75th anniversary Benjamin Walkerwho played Andrew Jackson on stage and Abraham Lincoln (vampire killer) in the film seems spot on.
Manic. Sweaty. Unfaithful. Depressed.
A former Hollywood hoofer – he played Will Parker in “Oklahoma!” – – Gene Nelson The casting for the seller was absolutely unhappy to be in love with his wife.
When the New York Philharmonic produced a concert version for a gala in 1985, Mandy Patinkin took the role – and shook it for all it was worth.
Sure, he already got his gloves on for the movie “Merrily We Roll Along,” but “Dear Evan Hansen” wasn’t a de facto audition for Ben Platt to Do you also play that nervous breakdown while walking?
Phyllis Rogers Stone
Elegant. Icy. Unfaithful. Angry.
Until 1971 Alexis Smith had long withdrawn from Hollywood, where her detached, glamorous aura made her a 1940s star. That person (and timeline) made her perfect for Phyllis.
Who is better than Diana Rigg, that ex-Avenger to take on the role of a brilliantly authoritative woman at the 1987 London premiere?
Lucy is juicy. Jessie is elegant. At least Phyllis sings and describes her two contrasting halves. Beyoncé is that and more. Case closed.
Sally Durant Plummer
Ruffles. Romantic. Loyal to. Nuts.
In the 1950s, Dorothy Collins was a beautiful B-list songbird on “Your Hit Parade”. In 1971 she still had the voice – and despite a big smile, acting hacks to darken Sally.
Bernadette Peters took on the role in the 2011 Broadway revival, stripping Sally’s social skin and turning darkness into madness.
Ruthie Ann Miles won a Tony Award for her passionate rendering of “Something Wonderful” in “The King and I.” Sally’s “Losing My Mind” is another ode to longing worthy of her heartbreaking voice.
Invincible. Leather lungs. Ancient. Timeless.
The former radio star Ethel Shutta was 74 when she started the role – debuting her great song “Broadway Baby”; She made her own Broadway debut in 1922.
For the 1985 concert, no one would come between Hattie and Hattie Elaine Stritchwho sang “Broadway Baby” for most of the next 30 years.
In 2046 Bernadette Peters will be 98 – and look 48. Having already played Sally in the 2011 Revival, she’s perfect for a role she never played except in real life.
Bruised. Tough. Hilarious. Still here.
Yvonne De Carlo, The best-known member of the original cast portrayed the former B-list star singing “I’m Still Here”.
For the same concert from 1985, Carol Burnett – a bigger star than any of the “Follies” characters – was a Carlotta Curveball. But no one could sell the setup for their big number better: “It was supposed to be a sad song, but it kept making people laugh.”
How much Carlotta was famous in Kiki DuRayne from “Kiki & Herb”? More than a splash. In 2046 it will be time for its creator, the cabaret chanteuse Justin Vivian Bond, to drink, close the bar – and bring the house down.