FOLLIES, Drury Lane Oakbrook. Vintage Sondheim, this 1971 musical aches with bittersweet retrospection. Former showgirls from a Ziegfeld-style revue return to the scene of their glory days--a theater soon to be torn down--with their husbands, former stage-door johnnies who married the wrong women. Though the reunion ignites an old flame, these mismatched couples once again settle for the safe and sorry. James Goldman's book wryly contrasts art with love, setting off the couples' impasse with the homage medley "Loveland," a sardonic sampling of the follies' euphoric ballads and novelty numbers. Like the fairy tales in Into the Woods, however, this escapist fare mocks the couples' real-life compromises.
Fortunately, the soapy story is subordinated to the songs, which include some of Sondheim's most characteristic numbers: "The Road You Didn't Take" could have appeared in any of his shows. And in Ray Frewen's staging, they outweigh the acting. Jeanne Croft digs every ounce of heartbreak from "Losing My Mind," and Kathy Taylor wisely restrains the sarcasm of "Could I Love You?" The men are less sure. Jim Ortlieb knocks himself out in "The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me Blues" but talks the energy out of "The Right Girl." Even more dour, David Girolmo seems to fade in "Too Many Mornings." But the cameos are showstoppers. Mary Robin Roth turns her survivor anthem "I'm Here" into a lifetime achievement award, and Diane Houghton's "Broadway Baby" radiates sheer joy.