Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Las Vegas

Ted Chapin adds another credit to his Follies résumé
Interview by Robert Sokol

Ted Chapin
Photo courtesy of Mr. Chapin
For forty years, Theodore S. (for Steinway) Chapin ran the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, overseeing the ongoing deployment of one of the great canons of American musical theatre. He retired from that job in 2021 and the years since have seen him collaborating on the memoir of orchestrator and music director Jonathan Tunick, shepherding to release an archival recording of an evening of prose and poetry read by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, consulting on the upcoming concert presentation of A Little Night Music that will star Cynthia Erivo and Marsha Mason, and making notes for his own in-progress memoir recollecting a remarkable career that also includes the founding of Encores! at City Center and two seasons producing Lyrics & Lyricists at the 92nd Street Y.

Before all this, however, Chapin occupied an enviable perch as a production assistant–"gofer," he corrects–on the original Broadway production of Follies. A college student, Chapin successfully pitched documenting an internship on an upcoming Broadway musical for college credit. Years later, from his meticulous notes, Chapin crafted the detailed and gripping narrative "Everything Was Possible: The Birth of the Musical Follies," available in a second edition and as an audiobook read by Jonathan Groff.

Chapin, now 73, takes his Follies connection to another level, portraying impresario Dimitri Weismann in the Las Vegas premiere of the iconic Stephen Sondheim-James Goldman musical at the Access Showroom of the Aliante Casino + Hotel + Spa.

Robert Sokol:  So, are you feeling like the éminence grise on this production? Are you being quizzed a lot? I mean, Lord knows, at least you were there.

Ted Chapin:  [Laughs] Yes, I am the éminence grise. They all want to know something and it's fun.

I was just talking to the choreographer about "The Right Girl" because that was designed to be one of those Gene Kelly, you know, masculine, into-the-floor kind of dance numbers that Kelly did in the musicals of the 1940s. It was never really conquered in the original production because of the way it was originally choreographed. It was too much for Gene Nelson to do, so it was cut back and it was tailored to the situation. I told her it was never really finished and I don't think anybody should say, "Oh, there's an absolute majesty and magic to what opened on Broadway for that number." When you're doing a new production, I like to say that was a compromise and what ideas do you have? When Danny Burstein did it [in the recent revival] on Broadway, he's not a dancer at all. So, they sort of made it an angry thing with throwing chairs around and stuff like that and I thought, "Yeah, that's taking a piece of material and making it work for a different kind of actor."

Michael Bennett was no fool. He pushed it. He pushed it to the limit of what Gene could do and still make it impressive. It's like, "Okay, this is what we got. Let's make this work."

Same for Yvonne de Carlo and "I'm Still Here." She couldn't make "Can That Boy Foxtrot!" work. Whether anybody ever could have ... who knows? However, her name is very prominent on the poster, so let's give her a song that at least can be hers, so that she can at least land with one piece of material, and land she did.

RS:  To paraphrase another lyric, what is the movie in your head that plays and plays about 1971 and Stephen Sondheim and Follies?

TC:  Just how fucking lucky I was. It's funny, just being here with these people [in Las Vegas] doing this show, and each one of them discovering it on their own. The fact that it's an original musical based on nothing but ideas–I think that was among the most remarkable things about Follies. The fact that all of the people who did it [Sondheim, Bennett, Prince] were still hungry. They hadn't become the Gods. They were close, but they hadn't. So, they were working very hard to make this the best thing they could possibly come up with, and I think it shows. The show has some intrinsic concerns that it will always have. However, I think the original production was so theatrically vivid, that the people who are champions of it really just saw the theatricality of it. How, you know, if you want to be in the theater, these are the people who do theater, and it's a tough life for a lot of reasons. You make wrong decisions and you have to deal with them. It was so theatrical.

I think, people also forget what that original set was. Even though it was called on to be an empty theater about to be torn down, it was this incredible abstract construction that made you feel like an empty set, but it was a very, very carefully crafted piece of work. I think that's part of the magic of this piece and why people were so attracted to it.

RS:  Sondheim was a great puzzler and Follies was originally conceived as a murder mystery. What do you think that would have been like?

TC:  Probably awful. Goldman and Sondheim started to talk about a reunion, and then very quickly, a Ziegfeld girl reunion, and what it could be and what would happen at a reunion. Sondheim said, it wasn't a who-done-it, it's a who-will-do-it. That was their idea, who-will-do-it because of the of the choices in the past, and what the characters have had to live through. Some of them are sort of breaking down because of what the past brings out in them in the present. Who will do it? It's all those psychological things that are still in the show. If there's an added element that somebody wants actually to shoot somebody, I can see why they would think that that's really giving it a lot of drama. I think it was Hal Prince who basically said, "Nah." He added the ghost figures, which I think is a better way, frankly, to deal with the choices that were made that may have been wrong, or what life was actually like back then and what it's become. Different, but still theatrical, and Hal Prince was nothing if not theatrical.

RS:  Any idea how many productions of Follies you've attended over fifty-plus years?

TC:  Not that many, I would say probably about twenty. That's ranging from the Landor Pub in London, with an audience of about fifty people in a real pub, to some of the big productions. They're all interesting. I still liked the original best, but they're all interesting.

Of the revivals, I think the one I liked the most was the one that was done at the National. Interestingly, it was the one in recent times that Sondheim had most to do with. They went back to the original script and format, and I think they did it very well. I thought Jan Maxwell as Phyllis was great. She was a great actress. I love the [Lincoln Center] concert, but that was but for different reasons. You can cast powerful people in those roles and they bring things to them that are fascinating. It's interesting to me that Buddy was always a dancer, but he hasn't been played by a dancer a lot. Maybe that's because there aren't the actors around.

RS:  Dancing can be a short-lived career, kind of like opera.

TC:  It doesn't have as much of a lifespan. Also, on the thing I was talking about earlier with "The Right Girl," Gene Nelson, kind of like Alexis Smith, was always the third choice in those Hollywood musical movies but that's the kind of thing he liked doing. He was that kind of, you know, in-the-floor dancer, so to try to do something that honored that made absolute sense. It just turns out he was too old to do it fully.

RS:  Do you think there will ever be a Follies movie?

TC:  Somebody asked me that today. When my book came out, I was actually on the one and only book tour and I got a call because Bill Condon was interested in making it a movie using my book as the way into the story. I thought this is great. Well, it wasn't to be. I still think he'd figured out a very interesting and good film to make. There were times where I thought that the Hollywood figures who could be comparable to the actors who did the original production, at different periods of time, just didn't exist. When the good and the bad musicals of the 60s were over, Hollywood stopped making musicals for a while. I don't know. Like everything, I think that somebody could have a point of view and find surprising people. I think it could be a great thing. I think Bil Condon would still like to do it. We've become friends and I like him a lot. I think his movies are really good. He's making Kiss of The Spider Woman now with Jennifer Lopez. He'd be an ideal person to figure out how to do Follies.

RS:  Tell me about this cast.

TC:  Everybody I've met is very nice. I have these weird little connections with many of them that I didn't realize. Michelle Johnson, the woman playing Sally, went to Yale with Adam Guettel. Frederica von Stade is arriving tomorrow. Andrea McArdle is doing "Broadway Baby." When they told me that they'd asked her and she said, "Well, it's about time I get to do that song," I said, "That's not what Andrea McArdle said. "What do you mean?" they asked. She said, "It's about time I get to do that fucking song." They laughed and said, "Yeah, that is what she said."

RS:  Andrea is hysterical. I love her.

TC:  She's great. She's like a broad. Once upon a time there were broads.

RS:  There were. What persuaded you to do this?

TC:  I knew the guys putting this on years ago, and they live out here. They were coming to New York and wanted to have dinner. We talked about all kinds of different things, and we may have talked about Follies. I don't really remember. It was more, "What have you done in the last few years? What's up? How's everybody that we know?" Then I found out that they were going to do it and I said, "Great." Then came this weird, sheepish call. "You know ... Do you think ... We've been thinking, but ... Is there any way ... Can we twist your arm to play Weissman?" I just laughed and said, "Yes. There's been clamoring for me to be back on stage since college." Weismann has seven lines, so I said, "What the hell. You only live once. Why not?" Say yes and get on the airplane.

RS:  It's seems sort of perfect to have this showgirl show in a showgirl city, right?

TC:  Yeah, and the irony is that Tropicana, one of the big places here, closed last week and is going to be torn down. That's where the Folies Bergere was. Like, how connected can this be?

RS:  Is there a difference between a Vegas showgirl and a Ziegfeld showgirl or are they two marabou feathers from the same headdress?

TC:  We'll find out. I haven't met any of them here. I do know that there were three Las Vegas showgirls hired in the original production of Follies. They certainly knew how to how to strut but they weren't asked to do anything else. They were tall, statuesque, and beautiful, but they were there as decoration. A cool thing here is that there's one [showgirl] who's 97 years old. She apparently is kicking up her heels like everybody else.

RS:  Does Follies always tempt you in one way or another? Do you hear Follies and perk up?

TC:  It kind of goes the other way. Follies gets on somebody else's agenda and people tend to reach out "Come and give a talk to the company," they'll ask. "We'd love you to see it." So, it kind of works more that way. I don't think I've ever been in a place other than the Landor pub where I found out it was happening and thought, "I don't know that I can afford to pass up Follies in a pub theatre with 50 seats." That, incidentally, was interesting because all they could do is rely on the book and the songs. So, you got a reading of the libretto and the Brits know how to do that very well. Sort of like the Daniel Fish Oklahoma!. Not the way I think Follies should be done all the time, but an interesting exercise to see what resonance there is when you do something like that.

RS:  What is the core of Follies for you? Why do you think people should see it?

TC:  Sort of paraphrasing something Jonathan Tunick said, there are kind of three generations in the show. Depending on where you fit in those generations you either know all those sweet young things, or those sort of misguided middle-aged people, or those doddery oldsters. Then, when you become middle-aged, it's all those callow youth, but those sweet middle-aged people. You sort of grow with it because it's three generations and it allows you to get three different points of view depending on where you land in it and that becomes very interesting.

One of the members of the cast said, "I'm just finding, the more I learn about this show, the kind of creepier some of the plot is." I think that it's about show business in a very interesting psychological way and I think that's what intrigues people. There's not a Mama Rose. There's not any of that kind of, you know, in your face stuff. It's just, you want to be in show business? Here are people who are in showbiz business, and here's the cost.

Follies runs through April 14, 2024, at the Access Showroom at Aliante Casino + Hotel + Spa, 7300 North Aliante Parkway, North Las Vegas NV. Remaining performances are Friday at 6:30 pm, Saturday at 2:00 and 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 1:00 and 5:30 pm. Tickets are $90 to $135. For tickets and information, please visit or call 702-692-7777.