Polly Bergen logo


Polly Bergen


By Liz Smith, January 13, 2014

NOW POLLY BERGEN, who won an Emmy in 1958 for her portrayal of singer Helen Morgan, is busy writing her memoir. Writer Stephanie Mansfield is the pro who is helping. Mansfield wrote Doris Duke's life story, which was turned into a successful CBS miniseries.

Polly will cover her early Hollywood life when wed to uber agent Freddie Fields, her backroom abortion at age 17, etc. She is best remembered by movie fans as the terrified wife in the original Cape Fear, with Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck.

I am told the characters in this memoir will include everyone from Bugsy Siegel to Barbra Streisand to Ardeshir Zahedi to Elizabeth Taylor and Harry Belafonte. The book will cover everything from Polly's taking LSD with Cary Grant to playing Chris Colfer's (Glee) grandma in 2012's Struck By Lightning. Publishers can't wait for this tell-all, to be titled Welcome to Pollywood.


By Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith, January 6, 2006

Polly Bergen is happy to report she's doing six episodes of "Commander in Chief" as Geena Davis' mother - or perhaps more. "They pretty much held me over for this year, so I guess as long as the show is on, for right now, I'll be around," she notes.

Her character is a strong lady admired by some, beloved by Bergen as "heaven to play," and greeted as "a battle-ax" by at least a couple of critics. She's informed her daughter, the president of the United States, " 'Honey, I'll always be here for you.' So if they fire me, they're going to have to kill me, give me a heart attack or something," Bergen observes.

Bergen also portrayed the first female U.S. president - in 1964, in the big screen "Kisses for My President" opposite the late Fred MacMurray. She's a huge fan of Davis and of "Commander in Chief." And she likes the fact that her grandmother character has stepped in to help out with her daughter's children - a true-to-culture situation she calls "a big lifestyle change back to the way it used to always be."

Still, regardless of appearances on the show, "I don't think there'll be a female president in my lifetime," Bergen says. "I don't. I wish it would happen, but this is the same conversation we were having 40 years ago, and it's still a male-dominated society."

Meanwhile, Bergen also has the big-screen "A Very Serious Person" on the way. "Charles Busch wrote it," she says. "He's delicious." The comedy-drama was also directed by and stars Busch, the actor-playwright known for "Psycho Beach Party," "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom" and "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife." Reports Bergen, "I play quite an elderly woman who is dying, who was raising her grandson. Now she knows that she's going to be leaving, and he's having to face that at about 12 years old - at the same time he's just realizing he's gay."


Scripps Howard News Service, November 23, 2005

Click to see a large version.

Polly Bergen, who is joining the cast of ABC's "Commander in Chief," isn't so sure the country will elect a female president in 2008.

Forty years ago, when she played the first female president in the film "Kisses for My President," she thought differently.

"I had great hopes then," says the 75-year-old Bergen, who is playing the mother of the first female president (Geena Davis) on "Chief."

"But isn't it interesting that 40 years later we're still talking about it? And I don't think the chances are any better now than they were then."

On "Chief," Bergen plays the outspoken Kate Allen, whose appearance on the Nov. 29 episode disrupts the White House during Thanksgiving festivities. The producers liked Bergen's performance so much that they asked her to do four more episodes this season. Bergen doesn't doubt that both major parties are looking at female candidates for the 2008 race for the White House _ Hillary Rodham Clinton and Condoleezza Rice. But she doesn't think anything will come of it.

"We are still a very puritanical and Victorian nation," Bergen says. "This nation began with (treating) women as cattle. As far as we have gone as women in this country, I think it is still very hard and very tough for a woman to be elected.

"I think it's hard for men and even women to accept the concept of a woman as president."

Bergen says she was approached years ago about running for the U.S. Senate, representing California, but she nixed the suggestion. "I am a better marketer than a politician."

The Tennessee-born Bergen also isn't optimistic about the women's movement, a political and social cause she has supported since the 1960s. She says women of today think they've already won the battle.

"A large number of women today are lazy regarding women's issues. They think it has been done and don't have to worry about it anymore. What they don't realize is that they don't get paid the same as men for doing the same job," she says.

"In many ways, they are less of a person then men are. They have to fight for it. I have fought for it, and now it's their turn to fight."

Such setbacks do not keep Bergen from trying. She says she has used her celebrity to speak out on women's issues, such as equal pay. She is dismayed that the public doesn't like entertainers to be political.

"They want us to entertain them, but, apparently, (the public) thinks we're stupid," she says. "We have the right to do and say what we feel just like any other American does."


UPI, October 30, 2005

Polly Bergen will play Kate Allen, the mother of the first female U.S. president, played by Geena Davis on ABC's "Commander in Chief."

Bergen will make her bow on the Nov. 29 Thanksgiving-themed episode, The Hollywood Reporter said.

Bergen actually beat Davis to the punch as the first woman president, The Reporter noted. She was commander in chief for the 1964 movie "Kisses for My President" with Fred MacMurray.

Bergen won an Emmy in 1958 for "Playhouse 90." She was nominated for Emmys for the 1988 miniseries "War and Remembrance" and the 1983 miniseries "The Winds of War" -- both on ABC.


By JENA TESSE FOX, November 19, 2004

To theatre-goers the world over, the name Moss Hart is synonymous with the Golden Age of Broadway. Renowned as the co-author of such classics as Once in a Lifetime, You Can’t Take It With You, and The Man Who Came to Dinner, and the director of Camelot and My Fair Lady, Moss Hart helped make Broadway what it is today. And today, his widow, Kitty Carlisle Hart, is helping the theatre in a different way, using her name and business savvy to raise funds for the arts. To recognize the work of this legendary duo, The Metropolitan Opera Guild will hold a star-studded gala event on Sunday, November 21. Hart to Hart will celebrate the theatrical contributions of both Moss and Kitty, with such stars as Jane Alexander, Polly Bergen, former Governor Mario Cuomo, Michael Feinstein, Rosemary Harris, Celeste Holm, Nathan Lane, and Audra McDonald scheduled to appear at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. Dame Julie Andrews and Beverly Sills will co-host the event.


By JONATHAN STORM, March 7, 2004

"To be a part of The Sopranos, which is such a phenomenon, and incorporates such extraordinary actors, is an honor and a thrill," says stage, film and TV veteran Polly Bergen." Bergen, 73, waa Emmy-nominated for the 1988 World War II mega-mini-series War and Remembrance.

"I figured out a way that I would absolutely get written back into the script," says Bergen, who plays the mistress of Tony Soprano's late father in one episode.

On the phone from her Connecticut home, she says, "Thinking I was being fresh and original, I went to them and said, 'This is who she is. Here is what happens.' I was told that every actor who doesn't get killed comes up with a way to get into more episodes."

"The Sopranos sets a standard for a certain kind of material and acting," Bergen says. "You just suddenly find it very difficult to watch regular television."


By MEREDITH LEONARD, August 12, 2003

More good news: It'll be Polly Bergen taking on the juicy role (once the domain of the great Uta Hagen) opposite Mark Hamill in "Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks," Richard Alfieri's play, when it opens October 29, 2003 at the Belasco Theatre in New York. Le Bergen, a better actress that she's ever been given credit for being, will help brighten up Broadway considerably.


By CHUCK GRAHAM, Tucson Citizen, February 13, 2003

People who say "I wish I could be young again, but know what I know now" should talk to Polly Bergen. Proud of being 72, she's not young again. But she feels young and she has a brand new career. She also has a concert appearance in Tucson Feb. 15 on a tour that stretches from Florida to California.

This new popularity is a direct result of her sparkling performances in recent revivals of the Broadway shows "Follies" and "Cabaret."

"I have just come back to the thing I love most ... singing," Bergen said. "Recently, I turned down a role in a new Broadway show that will probably run for the next 3,000 years. Don't ask me the name of it. But in that role I didn't have a song to sing, so I turned it down.

"I don't want to waste the rest of my life just earning a living. I want to do what's fulfilling for me. I want to play out my life doing what I enjoy, not just showing up for work."

For 30 years, from 1969 to 1999, the husky-voiced Bergen did a lot of showing up for work without singing a note. Excessive smoking and respiratory problems, complicated by other heath issues, had forced her to stop singing - though she did continue acting and running a successful cosmetics business.

But that lengthy stretch of non-singing years ended the day in 1999 when Bergen was just "humming around the house" and noticed her voice was sounding better. Though she had managed to stop smoking, she still couldn't sing "more than two notes on a single breath." But encouraged by her own humming, she hooked up with vocal coach Trish McCaffrey. They started working out Bergen's vocal cords.

"The voice is like any other muscle," the singer explained. "The more you work it, the stronger it gets."

By 2001, she had a Tony Award nomination for her role as Carlotta in "Follies." After that came the role of Fraulein Schneider in the revival of "Cabaret."

All these experiences, the highs and the lows, are poured into the show Bergen plans on doing here at the Temple of Music and Art.

"The show is about life, everybody's life. Whether you are in your 20s or in your 70s," Bergen says. "I'm not much into nostalgia. I don't sing a lot of the old songs. I believe in letting go and moving on.

"The songs in this show are from this year, last year, five years ago, 10 years ago. There's a Janice Ian song I feel is about me. It's called 'Star,' about a former star who has been forgotten."

What is most important to Bergen is not when the song was written, but how it makes her feel.

"It has to resonate with me in a very personal way. That's the only way it will work. The song has to sweep me into a different place," says Bergen.

"But I have absolutely no understanding of how that happens. Sometimes I'll work on a song for a long time, even have an arrangement done, and the song still won't resonate with me. So I'll drop the song."

Bergen chuckles to say she has never been a pop singer. She likes to say that had been asked to introduce "Come On-a My House" or "Que Sera Sera" - both big pop hits in the 1950s - "Those songs would have been big flops."

Instead of Top 40 radio fame, Bergen became famous in the 1950s for singing torch songs - love-weary ballads from the classic pop songbook about broken hearts and bitterness. "I was 26 years old and I was the most established torch singer in the business, but what did I know about life? Not anything."

Nevertheless, her signature song remains one of those smoldering ones, "The Party's Over." It would have been a pretty short party if she were only 26. The biggest irony for Bergen at 72 is how differently those same songs feel when she sings them now. In the journey of pursuing each song's emotional arc, she knows what it means to wield that elusive combination of youth and wisdom.


By ANDREW GANS, Playbill On-Line - June 12, 2002

Singer-actress Polly Bergen, who currently stars in the Tony-winning revival of Cabaret, has extended her run in that Kander and Ebb classic through early September. Bergen's personal press representative confirmed the extension.

Originally scheduled to play through June 23, Bergen will continue her acclaimed performance as the world-weary Fraulein Schneider through Sept. 8. The role of the older apartment owner who finds unexpected love with a Jewish shop owner just as the Nazi party begins to consume Germany gives Bergen, who received a Tony nomination for her work in the 2000 revival of Follies, a chance to wrap her powerful contralto around one of the musical's most memorable songs, "So What." She also solos on "What Would You Do?" and duets with Hal Linden's Herr Schultz on "Married" and the comedically sweet love song, "The Pineapple Song."

Carole Shelley will return to the role Sept. 9.

Discovered as a teenager by film producer Hal Wallis, Polly Bergen has accumulated over 300 film and TV credits. She won an Emmy Award for her acclaimed portrayal of Helen Morgan in TV's "The Helen Morgan Story" and received Emmy nominations for her work in two miniseries, "Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance." Bergen hosted her own variety show, "The Polly Bergen Show," and her signature sign-off tune, "The Party's Over" made the Jule Styne song a classic. Some of the actress' many film credits include "Cape Fear," "Move Over Darling," "Kisses for My President," "Making Mr. Right," "Cry Baby" and "A Guide for the Married Man." Bergen, who is also a political activist and a humanitarian, is the author of three-best selling books.

The Roundabout Theatre Company's Cabaret opened on Broadway on March 19, 1998, in a production directed by Sam Mendes with co-direction and choreography by Rob Marshall. The current cast includes Jane Leeves as Sally Bowles and John Stamos as the Emcee. Tickets may be purchased at the Studio 54 box office, 254 West 54th Street, or through TeleCharge at (212) 239-6200.



After too long an absence, Polly Bergen returned to Broadway last season in the Roundabout Theatre Company's production of "Follies" and promptly picked up a Tony Award nomination.

Bergen was one of the best things in the musical, blazing her way through "I'm Still Here," Stephen Sondheim's anthem show-business suvival. Now she has found a home in another revival, the long-running "Cabaret," still playing at Studio 54.

Bergen will play Fraulein Schneider, the practical landlady who rents a room to American writer Cliff Bradshaw in pre-World War II Berlin. She begins performances March 25 and will be in the show through June 23. Molly Ringwald is currently starring as Sally Bowles in the Kander and Ebb musical. Jane Leeves from the hit television series "Frasier" takes over from Ringwald April 29.


The sixth annual Nothing Like a Dame benefit March 18 for The Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative of the Actors' Fund of America will live up to it billing as a "vaudeville," Phyllis Newman told Playbill On-Line.

The Tony Award-winning actress and breast cancer survivor who has spoken out about women's health issues, said the special evening, produced at the St. James Theatre by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, is not like anything you see today - it's a cavalcade of acts.

Polly Bergen is on a list of women performers who will shine starting at 8 PM March 18, 2002.


7pm, Sunday, March 3, 2002
Polly Bergen wings out from N.Y. to concert for the Cabrillo Music Theatre Sunday. It's granddaughter Kathy Lander's interest. Price includes live auction and a post show reception with Polly Bergen and Celebrity MCs David Lander and Michael McKean aka Lenny and Squiggy. POLLY BERGEN most recently lit up the Great White Way with her critically lauded performance as Carlotta Campion in the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Follies, for which she received both 2001 Tony and Drama Desk award nominations.


Tony winner Karen Ziemba (Contact) and Tony nominee Polly Bergen (Follies) may soon share a stage together. The two actresses are collaborating on a new musical, titled Little Shows, and penned by Deborah Grace Winer, a source close to the project told Playbill On-Line.

The show would actually be composed of two one-act musicals, one starring Ziemba alone and the other starring Bergen. According to reports, Mark Waldrop will be the director. There is no time frame or destination theatre for the venture at this date.

Ziemba won a 2000 Tony Award for her performance in Contact as a housewife who escapes a suffocating marriage through choreographed flights of fancy. The show was only her latest collaboration with director-choreographer Susan Stroman, who had previously cast her in And the World Goes Round, Crazy for You and Steel Peer. Her next role is the lead in the Encore! Concert reading of The Pajama Game.

Bergen, a popular singer, actress and TV star in the years following World War II, recently emerged from retirement to perform an acclaimed new cabaret act and star in the Broadway revival of Follies. She just completed a six-week stint in The Vagina Monologues.


Tony nominee Polly Bergen will enter the cast of the Off-Broadway hit The Vagina Monologues October 30, 2001 and stay through December 9, 2001, a spokesman for Bergen told Playbill On-Line. Bergen's was the one performance uniformly applauded in the recent Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim's Follies. Bergen regularly brought down the house with her rendition of "I'm Still Here," and won a Tony nomination for her work.



Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical

Polly Bergen, Follies
Kathleen Freeman, The Full Monty
Cady Huffman, The Producers, the new Mel Brooks musical
Kate Levering, 42nd Street
Mary Testa, 42nd Street

The Tony Awards are presented by the League of American Theatres and Producers and the American Theatre Wing, and were broadcast on June 3, 2001 on PBS and CBS.

CLICK HERE for news about Polly and the Tony Awards.


MICHAEL PHILLIPS, Times Theater Critic - APRIL 6, 2001
Haunting, Powerful 'Follies'

Crushingly, the formidable Polly Bergen (as Carlotta, the role created by Yvonne DeCarlo) gets to sing the survival anthem "I'm Still Here" only once, which nonetheless may be enough for a featured-actress Tony Award.


HOWARD KISSEL, NY Daily News - APRIL 6, 2001
Sondheim's Songs Still Score, But Production Doesn't Sing

The strongest moments come in individual numbers, especially Polly Bergen's "I'm Still Here." Bergen has the whisky voice and the chutzpah to do the great song justice.


Ghosts of "Follies" haunt Broadway again
Follies (Belasco Theater; 973 seats; $90 top; 2:35)

The famous ghosts of "Follies" have at last taken up residence again on Broadway, bringing a few new specters along.

Thirty years after the Stephen Sondheim-James Goldman musical opened at the Winter Garden, "Follies" is haunting the Belasco, uneasily wearing the diadem of legend that it has accrued in the three decades since it closed.

Crowns are not the most comfortable form of headgear, of course. In fact, the creators of the revival may find that the show's iconic status among theater lovers -- its score is perhaps the greatest from the last great composer for the American musical theater -- is a crown of thorns. There's an odd irony in this, of course: The musical suggests that nostalgia is a trap, and it has come to find itself a victim of it.

The Roundabout Theater Co.'s eagerly awaited new revival is not perfect; it has its glories and disappointments, good times and bum times. It is, in general, finely acted, directed with intelligence and craft, middlingly sung, minimally designed.

Above all, and with or without flaws, "Follies" is welcome on Broadway, where its uncompromising air of regret is particularly bracing amid the juvenile cheer that marks most musicals these days.

A perfect "Follies" is, I suspect, an entirely imaginary conception. What strikes this first-timer to the show is its troubling -- and at the same time fascinating -- lack of cohesion, a quality commented upon by critics at its debut.

"Follies" may be the most artful musical that somehow doesn't satisfy as a work of art, and maybe wasn't meant to.

Irresolution is stitched into its every seam. Is it a book musical or a revue? It's both. Does it condemn or celebrate the beautiful lies that Broadway once sold? it does both. Does it tell us that survival is everything, or that mere survival is spiritual death? Both. It throws a party to celebrate disappointment, and expects us to love its characters for their self-hate.

You try making all that work.

English director Matthew Warchus' previous New York productions were small scale, small cast and intricately nuanced: Yasmina Reza's "Art" and "The Unexpected Man," and the recent revival of "True West."

He has said that his staging of "Follies" would take a "book-centered and actor-centered approach." Considering that Sondheim's score is the show's primary and most-beloved asset, with Michael Bennett and Harold Prince's staging of the original also reverently recalled, this is somewhat perverse, and the perversion sometimes shows.

Nevertheless it does bear dividends. Take, for example, "I'm Still Here," sung by the worldly wise Carlotta Campion, one of the ex-showgirls in attendance at a 1971 reunion on the stage of the Weissman Theater, soon to be a parking lot.

As performed with indescribable artistry and vocal assurance by Polly Bergen, the song, once one among a series of solo divertissements performed revue-style, becomes a small, neatly defined drama within the larger frame of the show.

Bergen begins by addressing her fellow performers, including them in Sondheim's tartly phrased paean to getting along, but as her intensity grows, the song turns inward, and by its fierce climax, Carlotta is alone onstage; the song has become an interior monologue, as much a fierce avowal of further endurance as a celebration of past survival. Not a mere show-stopper but a show in itself.

But it's in the casting of the musical's four central roles that Warchus' actor-centered approach is most clearly apparent, for good and ill. Neither Judith Ivey nor Blythe Danner, who play former follies girls and best friends who married the wrong men, have much experience in musicals.

Ivey is sorely taxed by the range of some of her songs -- particularly "In Buddy's Eyes" -- while Danner's dancing in "The Story of Lucy and Jessie" is mostly chorus boy-assisted posing -- and hardly persuasive at that. But these are actresses of the first rank, and they give touching and thoughtful performances.

As Sally Durant Plummer, who has always carried a torch for Ben Stone (Gregory Harrison), the man who tossed her aside to marry Danner's Phyllis, Ivey is poignant from start to finish. Her character's girlishness seems to have been uncannily preserved; with her eager, upturned face always boasting an ingratiating smile, she's visibly still the ingenue waiting for her dream date.

The other characters are haunted by -- and in turn haunt -- the ghosts of their former selves, but Ivey's Sally also remains the ghost of her former self.

Phyllis is probably the best-written role of the four principals -- she's the only one who's both smart and sympathetic, and Danner nails both aspects of the character in a performance to relish.

Her line readings are models of intelligent acting: Note how she slaps a layer of self-mockery on top of Goldman's occasional clunkers. She also clearly reveals the brittle but still hopeful heart beneath Phyllis' hard-edged exterior. Her performance of "Could I Leave You" is variously mordant, delicate and lacerating, as indeed is the performance as a whole.

Treat Williams, who plays Sally's salesman husband, Buddy, and Harrison as the successful but empty Ben Stone, are slightly less satisfactory. Williams is vocally overtaxed -- at times he even seems physically distressed -- by his challenging vaudeville number in the second act, although his acting is often affecting.

Harrison is a stronger singer, but his performance is bland and too remote even for an emotionally withdrawn character; it doesn't help that Ben is prone to bald self-diagnoses on the order of, "It's my life and I've lived it wrong," and other somewhat glib paroxysms of self-contempt and need.

Goldman's book is often amazingly theatrical, particularly in the intermingling of the ghosts from the past (fluently staged by Warchus), but it is also occasionally overexplicit and maddeningly underwritten.

Sondheim's score, of course, is a marvel. Thirty years on, the pastiche songs retain all their inherent musical charm and pizzazz, to say nothing of their verbal wit, and the book songs are exemplary examples of Sondheim's unparalleled knack for turning knotty pieces of introspection into musical and lyrical jewels.

Aside from Bergen's number, the most accomplished spots come from a stylish Jane White, her mouth wide enough to swallow the Eiffel Tower in "Ah, Paris!," and Carol Woods, who rocks the house with "Who's That Woman."

Joan Roberts, the original Laurey in "Oklahoma!," is also sweetly enchanting while dueting with her younger self, Brooke Sunny Moriber, in the operetta number, and Betty Garrett rather endearingly undersells "Broadway Baby."

Kathleen Marshall's choreography is appropriate but workmanlike and unmemorable.

If minimalism could be said to describe the vocal assets of the show, it also applies to the visual ones. Designer Mark Thompson has done a marvelous job of distressing the Belasco -- or merely exposing its age spots -- but more money seems to have been spent tearing the theater apart than constructing things to put onstage.

The "Loveland" sequence and the series of musical numbers that follow should transport us to a glamorous facsimile of the follies, but Thompson's sketchy vision -- when inspiration fails, think pink? -- doesn't take us very far.

The financial constraints of today's Broadway are partly to blame here, but the fact remains that the production's pared-down visual aesthetics -- which extend to Theoni V.

Aldredge's costumes, handsome but mere ghosts of the Florence Klotz originals -- diminish its overall impact. (Hugh Vanstone's wondrous lighting is an exception, however; it artfully and intricately identifies the ghosts by bathing them in lavender moonlight.)

Without an idea of the magic that was lost, how can we feel the ache at the heart of the show, which is as much an elegy for an art form as it is for the dream of a happy marriage?

Even diminished, "Follies" is hypnotic and deeply affecting to anyone old enough to ponder roads not taken and the follies of youth. Its splintered, unresolved quality -- it doesn't so much end as stop -- may have a lot to do with the overwhelming affection it inspires in its fans.

The show leaves the audience hanging along with its characters, who seem to have no future whatsoever when the curtain comes down. As soon as it's over you want to start watching it again, hoping for a miracle: that elusive happy ending that life -- and Broadway shows -- once seemed to promise.

Dimitri Weissman........................... Louis Zorich
Showgirls.................... Jessica Leigh Brown, Colleen Dunn, Amy Heggins, Wendy Waring
Sally Durant Plummer........................ Judith Ivey
Sandra Crane.............................. Nancy Ringham
Dee Dee West............................ Dorothy Stanley
Stella Deems................................ Carol Woods
Solange La Fitte............................. Jane White
Roscoe..................................... Larry Raiken
Heidi Schiller............................. Joan Roberts
Emily Whitman............................. Marge Chapman
Theodore Whitman......................... Donald Saddler
Carlotta Campion........................... Polly Bergen
Hattie Walker............................. Betty Garrett
Phyllis Rogers Stone...................... Blythe Danner
Benjamin Stone......................... Gregory Harrison
Buddy Plummer............................ Treat Williams
Young Phyllis................................ Erin Dilly
Young Sally................................. Lauren Ward
Young Dee Dee/"Margie".................... Roxane Barlow
Young Emily............................... Carol Bentley
Young Carlotta........................... Sally Mae Dunn
Young Sandra............................... Dottie Earle
Young Solange.......................... Jacqueline Hendy
Young Heidi........................ Brooke Sunny Moriber
Young Hattie............................... Kelli O'Hara
Young Stella............................. Allyson Tucker
Young Roscoe............................ Aldrin Gonzalez
Young Ben................................ Richard Roland
Young Buddy.................................. Joey Sorge
Young Theodore............................... Rod McCune
Kevin................................ Stephen Campanella

A Roundabout Theater Co. presentation of a musical in two acts with book by James Goldman, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Directed by Matthew Warchus. Choreography by Kathleen Marshall. Musical direction, Eric Stern; orchestration, Jonathan Tunick. Sets, Mark Thompson; costumes, Theoni V. Aldredge; lighting, Hugh Vanstone; sound, Jonathan Deans; dance music arrangements, John Berkman, David Chase; music coordinator, John Miller; production stage manager, Peter Hanson. Opened April 5, 2001. Reviewed April 3.


BEN BRANTLEY, NY Times - APRIL 6, 2001
'Follies': A Gritty Vision of Faded Gold

The first Broadway production of "Follies" since 1971 certainly gets you thinking about the souring effects of time and of roads not taken.

The beauty we fell in love with 30 years ago isn't looking so good these days. I ran into her at the Belasco Theater the other night. She's turned all brittle and cynical, and she's thin to the point of emaciation. Worst of all, she seems to have lost any real sense of who she is. Sad, isn't it, what the years can do to a great musical?

The ardently anticipated revival of "Follies," which opened last night in its first Broadway production since the original staging of 1971, certainly gets you to thinking about the souring effects of time and of roads not taken. "Was it ever real?" sings one of the endlessly rueful characters, of a long-ago love affair.

It's a question that fans of "Follies," a rabidly passionate lot, may well ask themselves after seeing Matthew Warchus's pale and strangely tentative interpretation of this tale of former Ziegfeld-style performers gathered for a last reunion. What is widely remembered as a ravishing musical elegy for an era in American show business has resurfaced as a small, bleak and pedestrian tale of two unhappy marriages.

While its supporting cast includes fabled veterans whose very presence guarantees sentimental tears, the Roundabout Theater Company production of "Follies" has a bone-dry emotional center. And in the four principal roles, Blythe Danner, Gregory Harrison, Judith Ivey and Treat Williams come across as reluctant revelers on a scavenger hunt forced to look for the characters they have been asked to portray.

The magic of "Follies" was always in the music in Stephen Sondheim's brilliant re-inflecting of song styles of the past, with a score and lyrics that throbbed with ambivalence. The current incarnation shifts the emphasis to James Goldman's book, which is largely devoted to disenchanted husbands and wives sounding clever and bitter. This is not what is known as playing to one's strengths.

What made "Follies" seem revolutionary when it opened and was still apparent in an opulent production at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, N.J., several years ago has all but disappeared. Set in a decaying theater that was once home to the glory days of the Weismann (read Ziegfeld) Follies, the show is indeed about the siren call of the past.

"Never look back," tenderly warbles an ancient soprano (Joan Roberts), recreating the operetta aria that was once her signature. The genius of "Follies" is its ability to capture the very act of memory and its distortions in music.

Mr. Sondheim's array of period songs are much more than sendup pastiches, evoking not just the flavor of another era but the way we recall it. You can still get the effect on the original cast album: the feeling of an idealizing orchestral lushness fragmenting into modern anxiety and discord. It is, to borrow a title from a recent play, the noise of time.

The 1971 production, overseen by Harold Prince and Michael Bennett, visually matched the richness and surrealism of the music. With sets by Boris Aronson and costumes by Florence Klotz, it was a last-gasp Roman candle of a production, far too expensive to ever be realized today. Like the reunion portrayed onstage, it was a gorgeous blowout and a farewell.

Unlike the Paper Mill production of 1998, the Roundabout "Follies" doesn't attempt to reflect the original but instead reinvents the show in a minor, more naturalistic key. It puts the accent on the grit of the present rather than on the gold dust of the past.

This isn't a bad idea. But Mr. Warchus, the British director best known here for his smart, minimalist productions of "Art" and "True West," seems to have little feel for "Follies" as fantasia, a lack that becomes achingly evident in the second act.

Whenever possible, he presents the show as your standard-issue organic musical, in which songs flow naturally out of the conversation instead of from the deeper recesses of the mind. He has, accordingly, cast actors instead of singers in the lead roles.

There were moments in the first act when I thought Mr. Warchus was going to pull off his brave conceptual approach. Certainly, the 94-year-old, elegantly weathered Belasco Theater offers a perfect environmental setting. As the actors mill through its aisles, on their way to and from the stage, we implicitly become their ghostly audience.

Mark Thompson's setting and Hugh Vanstone's lighting evoke a stark world denuded of any former glamour. The grand staircase on which the old Follies girls make their commemorative descent is now a rickety-looking fire escape. And lest we think that it was much more romantic in earlier times, the ghosts of chorines past who materialize, garlanded in wan spotlights, look more like floozies than goddesses.

The score itself, performed by an orchestra of 14 rather than the original 26 musicians, inevitably sounds wispier and less seductive. (Jonathan Tunick, the show's original orchestrator, makes the best of limited resources.) And Theoni V. Aldredge's costumes for the older women remind us of just how unflattering the styles of the 1970's were.

This context of greater realism does afford some genuinely touching moments, mostly in the frailty and gallantry of the older show-biz troupers. As a team reminiscent of Fred and Adele Astaire, Donald Saddler and Marge Champion do a lovely, gentle pas de deux. Betty Garrett (of the movie "On the Town") incorporates an affectingly shy shimmy into a softened version of the usually belted "Broadway Baby."

Just the fact of Joan Roberts, now a snowy-haired beauty with a cane, is enough to raise the pulse of any musical cultist. Ms. Roberts was the original Laurey in "Oklahoma!" And, why, there's Jane White, the evil queen from "Once Upon a Mattress," providing a robust cartoon of a French chanteuse.

There is also, most impressively, the tough-skinned former movie star Polly Bergen as a tough-skinned former movie star who performs the show's best-known song, "I'm Still Here." Ms. Bergen transforms the number from the usual defiant anthem into something darker, suggesting the toll exacted by survival.

What is largely missing, however, is an authentic sense of the show-biz fantasy machine that shaped these performers. "Who's That Woman?," in which the Follies alumnae recreate a celebrated routine, is agreeable enough as led by Carol Woods.

Yet it has no taste of how it must have been sung or danced originally, and the ghostly tap dancers who emerge to represent the women's younger selves seem to have no relation to the older ones. The dancing throughout is bizarrely flavorless, showing none of the usual resourcefulness of its choreographer, Kathleen Marshall.

Song and dance are almost and I know this sounds crazy incidental in this "Follies," which registers most pointedly as a study in marital conflict and midlife crises. This disharmony is embodied by the rich businessman-politician Benjamin Stone (Mr. Harrison) and his wry and frosty wife, Phyllis (Ms. Danner).

In the other corner is the overeager salesman Buddy Plummer (Mr. Williams), who married Phyllis's former roommate and fellow chorine, Sally (Ms. Ivey). They are shadowed, a bit too literal-mindedly in this production, by the ghosts of the hopeful kids they once were (played by Erin Dilly, Richard Roland, Joey Sorge and, most convincingly, Lauren Ward, as the young Sally).

It's not all hugs and happy reminiscence when these couples meet again. Regrets? They've had a few. Sally still loves Ben, with whom she had an affair; Buddy still loves Sally but has a younger mistress; and as for Phyllis and Ben . . . well, as Ms. Danner has to say to Mr. Harrison, in a voice wreathed in icicles: "You haven't got a clue what love is. I should have left you years ago."

That's the general tone of Mr. Goldman's book: "Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf?" as it might have been rewritten for Joan Crawford at MGM. Ms. Danner delivers her acid zingers expertly, but she looks physically ill at ease throughout the evening in ways that have nothing to do with the pangs of lovelessness. None of these performers, in fact, seem at ease in the skins of their characters.

Mr. Harrison, in particular, doesn't begin to suggest the nervous tautness of a man about to snap, which Ben does in the second act. And Ms. Ivey seems less to inhabit the unsophisticated Sally than to patronize her. The performance is too shrill by half.

The fabled Loveland sequence, in which each member of this foursome does a solo Follies turn as a musical nervous breakdown, now seems sad for all the wrong reasons. It's not just the gimcrack look of the sets and costumes but the feeling that no one has bothered to direct the stars.

Each exudes the uncertainty of a performer still in the improvisational phase of shaping a character, trying on and discarding different poses, or of an understudy thrust into the spotlight. It is the opposite of selling a song, which may be Mr. Warchus's intention, but you just feel sorry for the singers (or nonsingers, as it happens), especially Ms. Ivey.

Perhaps this production has taken too much to heart the message of the show's haunted cornerstone song "The Road You Didn't Take," about the consequences of choices in life. There's a feeling of paralysis throughout this "Follies," a sense of artists at the crossroads still waiting to decide how they're going to conquer this grand and daunting show.


Book by James Goldman; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; directed by Matthew Warchus; choreography by Kathleen Marshall. Sets by Mark Thompson; costumes by Theoni V. Aldredge; lighting by Hugh Vanstone; sound by Jonathan Deans; original dance music arranged by John Berkman; additional dance music arranged by David Chase; music coordinator, John Miller; executive producer, Frank P. Scardino; technical director, Peter W. Lamb; production stage manager, Peter Hanson; hair design by Paul Huntley; associate choreographer, Joey Pizzi; associate director, Thomas Caruso; associate artistic director, Scott Ellis; orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick; musical direction by Eric Stern. Presented by the Roundabout Theater Company, Todd Haimes, artistic director; Ellen Richard, managing director, Julia C. Levy, executive director, external affairs. At the Belasco Theater, 111 West 44th Street, Manhattan.

WITH: Judith Ivey (Sally Durant Plummer), Blythe Danner (Phyllis Rogers Stone), Gregory Harrison (Benjamin Stone), Treat Williams (Buddy Plummer), Louis Zorich (Dimitri Weismann), Carol Woods (Stella Deems), Jane White (Solange La Fitte), Joan Roberts (Heidi Schiller), Marge Champion (Emily Whitman), Donald Saddler (Theodore Whitman), Polly Bergen (Carlotta Campion), Betty Garrett (Hattie Walker), Erin Dilly (young Phyllis), Richard Roland (young Ben), Joey Sorge (young Buddy), Lauren Ward (young Sally).


MICHAEL KUCHWARA, AP Drama Critic - APRIL 5, 2001
'Follies' Revival on Broadway

In a dark Broadway theater, a well-dressed man holding a flashlight walks slowly down the aisle. Beams of light bounce off the dilapidated, crumbling playhouse as this aging theatrical impresario climbs on stage and slowly surveys the past.

It's an eerie moment, filled with shadows and the ghosts of a musical theater long vanished, a time of beautiful girls, beautiful melodies and ideas such as "Love will see us through 'til something better comes along."

It's also a terrific beginning for "Follies," the Stephen Sondheim-James Goldman musical, back on Broadway, courtesy of the Roundabout Theatre Company, after an absence of 30 years.

Yet any revival of "Follies" brings with it not only the ghosts of those showgirls, but the specter of the musical's first legendary production, which opened in New York in 1971. Even for those who never saw it, the original lingers, primarily through its truncated, but dazzling cast recording.

Those ghosts, unfortunately, also haunt the Roundabout's modest, uneven revival, an attempt to downsize the show and, according to director Matthew Warchus, let its emotional truths reverberate more clearly. This "Follies," which opened Thursday at the Belasco Theatre, is minimal on several counts, not all of them successful, particularly in the vocal department.

We are at the reunion of former Follies girls, the women who starred in the revues of Dimitri Weismann, a Ziegfeld-like producer who created musical extravaganzas between the two world wars.

A parade of old performers attend, but Goldman's story focuses on a pair of equally unhappy couples - one wealthy, the other resolutely middle-class. Ben (Gregory Harrison) is a well-to-do philanthropist; Phyllis (Blythe Danner) is his bitter, brittle wife. Both have been shut down emotionally for years. Buddy (Treat Williams) is a glad-handing oil-rig salesman; his helpmate, Sally (Judith Ivey), is a needy, sweet-tempered housewife. Both saw their dreams evaporate long ago.

Their tiffs and tantrums, regrets and recriminations are intertwined with convivial cocktail party chatter and Sondheim's extraordinary score, divided between the two couples' rueful remembrances and snappy, specialty numbers, which celebrate a bygone era. Warchus masterfully handles this free-flowing design, as the partygoers drift on and off the stage.

The four leads all have been seen to better advantage in other shows. None is much of a singer, which produces an odd effect. When their stories burst into song, these characters diminish as people.

The women come off better than the men, primarily because of their acting. Danner captures the acid etched in Goldman's wittiest lines and Ivey is tremulousness personified. Harrison, however, seems bland, particularly for a man teetering on the edge of a breakdown, while Williams gives a labored performance that doesn't suggest the bile beneath Buddy's hearty conviviality.

Yet not even the two female leads rise to the musical heights demanded by Sondheim's ambitious score. Danner has better luck with "Could I Leave You?" - an acerbic retort to her errant husband, than with her big second-act song, "The Ballad of Lucy and Jessie." It requires some fancy footwork which she hasn't quite mastered. Ivey's vulnerability gets her through such serious numbers as "Losing My Mind," but the actress has trouble with the music's difficult vocal range.

If the four leads can't sing, the actors playing their younger selves can. This strong-voiced quartet includes Erin Dilly, Lauren Ward, Richard Roland and Joey Sorge.

In the original, co-directors Harold Prince and Michael Bennett assembled a supporting cast of women who had a rich theatrical tradition. Warchus has done the same here. There's a perfect mating of material and performer in Polly Bergen's gutsy rendition of the ultimate survivor song, "I'm Still Here." It's the evening's one genuine show-stopper.

Charm can also be found in Joan Roberts' touching, operatic "One More Kiss," Betty Garrett's perky "Broadway Baby," Jane White's rowdy "Ah, Paris!" and the graceful dancing of Donald Saddler and Marge Champion.

Unfortunately, "Who's That Woman?" - an ensemble number led by the robust Carol Woods - makes less of an impact now, primarily because of Kathleen Marshall's surprisingly cut-rate choreography that clutters the stage.

"Follies" demands opulence, or at least the suggestion of opulence. At a reported cost of $4.5 million (inexpensive for a musical these days), the Roundabout's version looks a bit anemic, particularly the Follies-esque Loveland sequence in Act 2. In this scene, the leading characters' emotional turmoils come to life in a collection of songs that would not have been out of place in a Ziegfeld revue. The performers sing against designer Mark Thompson's garish backdrop that seems to suggest plastic pink spider webs rather than a lavish musical extravaganza.

There is one stunning bit of scenery that has nothing to do with Thompson's designs. In the 1970s, the Belasco's lower boxes on either side of the stage were destroyed for a cabaret-style production of "The Rocky Horror Show." The destruction was hidden from view by heavy curtains. Now the curtains are gone, and this unconscionable vandalism has been displayed for all to see. It's a scary reminder of the fragility of the theater, not to mention life. More than anything else on stage, it proclaims what "Follies" is all about.


MICHAEL KUCHWARA, AP Drama Writer - MARCH 28, 2001
"Hats off, here they come, those beautiful girls."

That lyric by Stephen Sondheim is an announcement New York theater buffs have been waiting to hear for 30 years - the first Broadway revival of "Follies," a lavish, legendary musical about musicals and more.

James Goldman's story focuses on a reunion of former showgirls, performers who were featured in various editions of a musical revue not unlike the Ziegfeld Follies, which flourished on Broadway between the two world wars.

The party takes place in a dilapidated theater awaiting the wrecking ball. Yet "Follies" is not just a celebration of old friends getting together, perhaps for the last time. Also present are their younger selves, ghosts from another era when everything seemed possible. The show depicts past and present colliding, hopes and dreams confronting realities that may not be so pleasant. It's heavy stuff for a musical whose title sounds so gently nostalgic, until you think about it for a bit.

"Follies" premiered at the Winter Garden Theatre on April 4, 1971. Critical opinion was generally favorable, except for key notices in The New York Times. Although the show ran 522 performances, the production, which starred Alexis Smith and Dorothy Collins, was not a financial success. It lost $685,000 of its $800,000 investment, quite a sum three decades ago.

"I am happy I did `Follies.' I could not do it again because I could not in all conscience raise the money for it," its original director and producer, Harold Prince wrote in his memoir, "Contradictions: Notes on Twenty-Six Years in the Theatre."

So what is "Follies" doing back on Broadway, in the much smaller Belasco Theatre, produced by the nonprofit Roundabout Theatre Company and directed by a boyish 34-year-old Brit, Matthew Warchus, best known in New York for his work on such intimate plays as "Art," "True West" and "The Unexpected Man"?

"It's an entirely different path into the piece," Warchus says, sitting one recent Saturday in the dungeon-like basement of the Belasco before the arrival of the matinee crowd. The original "Follies" was noted for its opulent look - from its mammoth settings to its glittering, extravagant costumes. Not so today, the director explains.

"We have tried to make a virtue out of it being in a smaller theater - by trying to create very precise spectacle, if you like," Warchus says. "Design costs are pared right down to the minimum. The cast and the orchestra are stripped down to smaller resources, too.

"Yet it feels proportionally appropriate. So the large-scale moments feel big on this small stage and what is more important, perhaps, the small-scale moments are allowed to have focus. In a smaller theater, you can get access to nuances, to tiny details that are going on."

Goldman's book concentrates on two married couples - one, a wealthy, unhappy husband and wife; the other, a more middle-class pair, equally unhappy. Warchus has cast four performers - Blythe Danner, Gregory Harrison, Judith Ivey and Treat Williams - who are not immediately associated with musical theater. The director wanted actors who could handle the show's considerable drama.

"The material is very, very emotive - dealing with the mistakes we've made in our lives, the things we have suffered in life and our tenacity or our failure to overcome them," he says. "All of these things have the capacity to hit home with people of all ages."

Warchus was 21 when he first saw "Follies, the London production starring Diana Rigg and Julia McKenzie. "I was hugely affected by the show," he says. "It played a big part in my wanting to become a director. I was struck by the mixture of a visceral, emotional story and spectacle.

"Even in the small plays I do, not only do I try to make the emotional impact and the psychology truthful and strong, I also try to be theatrical as well," Warchus says. "Some directors are interested in spectacle, and some are interested in psychology. I have always been interested in both."

One important aspect of the original was the choreography of Michael Bennett, who co-directed the show with Prince and who died at the age of 44 in 1987. As the performers danced their big numbers, their younger selves mirrored the steps behind them.

"The concept was so theatrical and so universal," says Graciela Daniele, who was in the original and assisted Bennett on that production as well. "We all have ghosts. It's a very powerful idea to see this incredible ensemble of mature stars and see it reflected in the young ghosts of themselves. Youth facing the reality of old age was very moving and very poignant."

For this "Follies," Kathleen Marshall, acclaimed for her work on the current revival of "Kiss Me, Kate" and several well-received concert versions of old shows at City Center, did the dances. She did her usual research.

"I got the original Playbills and the original out-of-town Playbills because I love seeing what changes were made. I also got the original reviews to see what they had to say. And I looked at a lot of photographs of the original in terms of production stills - to get a sense of the tone of the piece, how it was put together and what it generally looked like.

"I'm glad I didn't see the original. But much of the original Michael Bennett-Hal Prince concepts will remain simply because they are inherent to the show. It's not like you are reinventing the wheel in that way. Yet I thought that's enough. I didn't want to copy it any more."

Marshall tailored the dancing and movement to the strengths of her current cast which also includes such veterans as Polly Bergen, Betty Garrett, Joan Roberts, Jane White, Carol Woods and Marge Champion.

"The emotion that you want to have in the show happens just when these actresses come on stage," Marshall says. "Many of them have been in show business for more than half a century. They have a power and it is something you cannot teach.

"You either know how to make an entrance or you don't. And every one of these ladies knows how to make an entrance. It's where reality and theatricality cross paths. They are playing it as their characters would, yet they bring to the stage their own long history of experience."

With the approval of Goldman's widow, there was minor reshaping of the script, which already had been revised in 1998 for a production at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse. Sondheim's score, much of it an homage to such great composers as Romberg, Porter, Kern, Gershwin and Arlen, is basically unchanged, with some small lyric revisions incorporated from the London production.

Still, Warchus admits it has been an intimidating experience.

"It's a bit like directing `Hamlet' at the Royal Shakespeare Company," he suggests. "There's a huge heritage you take on board. I'm sure I would have liked the original, but it's important not to allow it to be a competition in your head. The more personal your response, the more likely you are to create a strong production that will be successful, too."


The fifth annual "Nothing Like a Dame," a star-studded one-night-only performance to benefit the Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative of The Actors' Fund, will be presented on Mon., March 12, at 8 pm, at New York's Martin Beck Theatre.

Dames participating include Lauren Bacall, Polly Bergen, Zoe Caldwell, Mario Cantone, Lea DeLaria, Sandy Duncan, Tovah Feldshuh, Lauren Flanigan, Amanda Green, Uta Hagen, Dee Hoty, Anne Jackson, Joan Kwuon, Marin Mazzie, Phyllis Newman, Christine Pedi, Lynn Redgrave, Marla Schaffel, and Karen Ziemba. They'll be joined by other stars including Andre DeShields and "Hot Metal" from "The Full Monty," Sally Mayes & George Dworsky aka "Pete 'N' Keely", The Three Broadway Tenors, and The Radio City Rockettes.

Jude Kelly directs, with Kim Grigsby as musical director.

All proceeds from this annual event go to The Actors' Fund's Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative. The initiative addresses health issues which impact women in the entertainment industry and highlights The fund's health-related services for women. The concept for the new program was the inspiration of actor/director and fund trustee Phyllis Newman, a breast cancer survivor, who provides leadership, energy and guidance.


Polly Bergen was one of the winners of the 16th annual Bistro Awards for outstanding achivement in cabaret. Backstage magazine's Bistro Awards were bestowed Monday, March 5 at the Supper Club, 240 West 47th Street. Bergen (Follies) was recognized for Outstanding Major Engagement.


Three musical revivals will arrive on Broadway by June 1, 2001. First up, the eagerly awaited reworking of "Follies," the legendary Stephen Sondheim-William Goldman musical about the reunion of old Follies stars at a Broadway theater that is about to be torn down.

This being a Sondheim musical, guilt, recrimination and regret fill the air. Blythe Danner, Gregory Harrison, Judith Ivey and Treat Williams portray the two couples who shoulder the burden of all the angst. Look for such luminous performers as Polly Bergen, Betty Garrett, Marge Champion and Joan Roberts (the original Laurey in the 1943 "Oklahoma!") playing former Follies showgirls. The musical, under the direction of Matthew Warchus, opens April 5 at the Belasco Theatre.


Polly Bergen's one-niter (Jan. 13) at the Beverly Hilton's Coconut Club was so successful (SRO), Merv Griffin tells me he is convinced to try to book other names into the already successful dance palace. Merv reeled off possibles like Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Michael Feinstein, Tony Danza and Don Rickles.

The room was packed with celebs for Bergen's triumphant return to clubs, following her success at N.Y.'s Regency Hotel's Feinstein boite (which we also witnessed and applauded). She again got a standing ovation when she belted, "I'm Still Here!" Thursday she goes into rehearsals for the April 5 revival of "Follies" at the Belasco for the Roundabout Theater. That means scale-$ for the all-star cast.

Although signed until July, "Follies" is a sellout, Bergen says, and they are asked to linger. But she will return to accept offers for her own nitery act -- and says she'll add 20 minutes to make it a one-woman theatrical show rather than a club act. Richard Alexander will again direct.


Merv Griffin signed Polly Bergen (a smash at Feinstein's at the Regency in N.Y.) to one night only, Jan. 13 at his Coconut Club in the Beverly Hilton. Polly then returns to N.Y. to costar in the revival of "Follies."


NOVEMBER 12, 2000

Polly - Parade Magazine


Considered one of the greatest musicals of all time, "Follies," takes place on the stage of the once-spectacular, but now crumbling, Weismann Theatre, where, on the eve of its demolition, ghosts from its glorious past return and showgirls from decades ago reunite — and remember — one last time.
Well, by now, you may know that the Roundabout Theatre Co. has announced the cast for its April 5 opening of the 1971 Tony Award-winning musical by James Goldman and Stephen Sondheim. It's spectacular. Here we go: Blythe Danner, Gregory Harrison, Judith Ivey, Treat Williams, Polly Bergen, Marge Champion, Betty Garrett, Larry Keith, Joan Roberts, Donald Saddler and Carol Woods. The role of Solange LaFitte has not yet been cast. Matthew Warchus directs the production, with choreography by Kathleen Marshall. By the by, Bergen is simply wonderful in her current gig at Michael Feinstein's in the Regency Hotel.


Night life in New York during our brief stay included Polly Bergen at Feinstein's. Too bad she's only there until the 21st: she's spectacular, singing dramatically like -- Polly Bergen. She admits, "I wouldn't be here today if I hadn't stopped smoking two years ago." Do not miss her! She continues her showbiz return in "Follies"; rehearsals start in Jan. with Blythe Danner, Judith Ivey, Treat Williams, Greg Harrison, Betty Garrett, Marge Champion. An 18-week run is scheduled -- but mebbe (much) more.


NEWSWEEK - OCTOBER 12, 2000 -- Bergen’s Back

Polly wants to sing again
By Maggie Malone

Even after 35 years away from the cabaret stage, Polly Bergen can still pack a house. The husky-voiced actress returned to singing this past week with a gig at Feinstein’s at the Regency in New York.

THE ROOM WAS FILLED with celebrities, including Bernadette Peters, Arlene Dahl, Dominick Dunne and Rex Reed. Even her ex, famed Hollywood agent Freddie Fields, “flew in from Greece with his lovely wife,” Bergen announced.

But all the support wouldn’t have meant much if Bergen hadn’t sung with great spirit, moving from belting to almost whispering with ease. She admitted she was nervous and fluffed a lyric or two, but her direct and intimate style was perfect for the small room. And her choice of songs was masterly. She sang “I’m Glad There is You” with warmth and delicacy and “The Party’s Over” with rare dramatic force. And Bergen unleashed her wonderfully rowdy humor with “The Ladies Who Lunch,” “He Ain’t Mr. Right (He’s Mr. Right Now)” and “Sooner or Later (They All Come Home).” “Stars” by Janis Ian (also in the audience) spoke to the painful vagaries of fame.

That’s a subject with which Bergen is familiar, having enjoyed the spotlight intermittently in movies and on TV from the ’50s through the ’80s. (To some, she’s best remembered for her ’60s Turtle Oil cosmetics TV ads; others will recall her in 1983’s “Winds of War.”) Bergen seems justifiably proud of her next gig, “Follies,” slated to open on Broadway next spring. In that show, she’ll sing the great Stephen Sondheim anthem: “I’m Still Here.” As Bergen’s Feinstein’s gig proved, she is indeed.


VARIETY - OCTOBER 10, 2000 -- Polly Bergen ends 30-year break

Polly Bergen (Feinstein's at the Regency; 150 capacity; $75)
By Robert L. Daniels

Promising never to turn her back on music again, Polly Bergen has returned to the microphone after a mere 30-year hiatus.

In her comeback program of songs, "Sing One, Act Two" at Feinstein's at the Regency, Bergen makes a strong case for the big hurt of unrequited love. The torch song has seldom been in better hands.

The stately chanteuse, 71, still knows how to caress a lyric and reveal the numbing pain of loss -- as in "Here's That Rainy Day" -- as well as the bitter taste of farewell, best illustrated in the Richard Maltby/David Shire reflection "I Don't Remember Christmas (and I Don't Remember You)."

Bergen still sings with bold, husky assurance and brings the kind of svelte sophistication to her art that has very nearly disappeared from Manhattan night life. A decided highlight -- and as such performed much too early in her program -- is a tandem reprise from her Emmy-winning performance in the 1957 CBS telecast "The Helen Morgan Story." Perched on the grand piano, the singer framed a medley of Jerome Kern's "Bill" and "Why Was I Born?" with deep-seated melancholy and pointed heartbreak.

In addition to the standard repertoire of celebrated torch singers, Bergen unearthed some telling curios, including "Sooner or Later," written by Carolyn Leigh and Lee Pockriss for the character of Daisy Buchanan in an unproduced tuner of "The Great Gatsby" and Portia Nelson's satirical "He Ain't Mr. Right." The defining closer was Comden, Green and Styne's plaintive parting lament "The Party's Over." Somewhat of a chart hit and critical success for Bergen, the song has recently been re-released on a Columbia Collectibles CD.

Bergen also happens to be a fine actor, and she demonstrated her Broadway savvy with Stephen Sondheim's abrasive battle cry "The Ladies Who Lunch." One looks forward to her return to the stage in the upcoming Roundabout Theater Co.'s "Follies."

Presented inhouse. Conductor, Joseph Thalken; bass, Jered Egan; arrangements, Luther Henderson, Thalken.


Hello, Polly!
From Martin and Lewis to John Waters and Stephen Sondheim,
Polly Bergen is still here—and Feinstein’s has got her

Hey, world, Polly Bergen’s back in town! Not only is Miz B. kicking off the third leg of Feinstein’s phenomenally successful four-part diva celebration, she’s also snagged the role of Carlotta ("I'm Still Here") Campion in the Roundabout Theatre’s much anticipated production of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies.

“You know, I smoked for 50 years,” Bergen laughs in her famed, smokey tones. “That’s part of why I stopped singing. But I finally managed to quit. It wasn’t a fear of dying, it was a fear of living and being incapacitated. And here I am at 70, at the start of a new career. Had I known I was going to live this long, I would have done this 10 years ago, when I looked and felt better.” (For the record, she looks years younger than her age and is still regally beautiful).

Carlotta in Follies, a plum part for any actress/singer of “a certain age,” should be a perfect fit for Bergen. Born Nellie Burgin in 1930, she began singing as a teenager in Tennessee and, in 1949, was both an uncredited jukebox voice in Kirk Douglas’ breakout film Champion and (as Polly Burgin) played “the cantina singer” in Across the Rio Grande. Then she was discovered by Hal Wallis and soon found herself co-starring in a trio of Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis films: At War with the Army (1950), That’s My Boy! (1951), and The Stooge (1953).

Also in ’53, she hit Broadway for the first time, appearing with Harry Belafonte, Orson Bean, and Hermione Gingold in John Murray Anderson’s Almanac. Just a few years later, she won an Emmy for The Helen Morgan Story, the last live presentation of Playhouse 90. “After Morgan,” Bergen recalls, “I was seen as a dramatic actress, though I certainly wasn’t trained; I barely knew how to act, as any number of people will tell you.” Among those she beat out for the Emmy that year were Julie Andrews (Cinderella), Teresa Wright (The Miracle Worker), and Helen Hayes and Piper Laurie in two original live dramas. Ironically, Bergen says now, “Acting never gave me the joy that singing does.”

In 1957-58, she hosted The Polly Bergen Show on TV. And, in 1959, she was back on stage in what would be her last Broadway musical to date: First Impressions, based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, wherein she replaced fellow television singer Giselle MacKenzie. In that ill-fated show, she co-starred with Gingold again, not to mention Farley Granger and Phyllis Newman. (The latter not only became a lifelong friend, but recently helped facilitate Bergen’s audition for Follies.) Bergen participated in last Spring’s 92nd Street “Y” celebration of the works of Betty Comden and Adolph Green (Newman’s husband), and also filled in at the last minute for Rosemary Harris in Newman’s charity reading of The Women at the Lucille Lortel. The last 40 years have brought her more than 300 film and television roles, most notably Rhoda Henry in the two mini-series based on Herman Wouk’s epic The Winds of War and War, which earned her two more Emmy nominations in 1983 and 1989.

In 1990, she cameoed in John Water’s Cry Baby, truly qualifying her to sing Carlotta’s trenchant line: “First you’re another sloe-eyed vamp, then someone’s mother, then you’re camp...!” Her return to singing after a very lengthy hiatus was as Joanne in an AIDS benefit performance of Sondheim’s Company in South Beach. “And let me tell you,” Bergen states emphatically, “it takes a lot of chutzpah to get out on stage after 35 years of not singing and deliver ‘The Ladies Who Lunch.’

“I’d seen the show originally,” she says of Company, “but I hadn’t really listened to it since, and I had no idea what I’d bitten off. So I was hysterical. My accompanist got me through it and said, ‘You know, you’d be great if they ever do Follies again, depending on how they cast it. Older, you’re a perfect Phyllis; younger, it’s Carlotta.’ I had no idea what he was talking about, because I’d never seen the show. A few weeks later, I got the call to audition, though not for any particular part. I don’t think they really knew who I was. I auditioned for the casting people and the director, and they asked me to come back and audition for [the role of] Stella ('Who’s That Woman?'). I was a little disappointed, because I still didn’t know the show and the only names I recognized were Phyllis and Carlotta. But my manager said, ‘If it’s the role of the dogcatcher, you’ll play it!’ I said, ‘Is there a dogcatcher in the show?’

“So I went back, and they had me sing for Stephen [Sondheim]. I did ‘The Ladies Who Lunch’ and ‘Who’s That Woman?’ and I left. They called the next day saying, ‘Stephen wants you for Carlotta.’ That name I knew! At almost the same time, I was booked into Feinstein’s and I celebrated my 70th birthday. Now I had to find out whether I could still to do it and whether performing live would give me the same joy. You know, I stand offstage an emotional wreck until the moment when my foot hits the spotlight, and then, I’m transformed. It’s the same feeling as the old days—‘Okay I’m home now.’ What also scares me is the intimate cabaret setting; I haven’t done any of those in 50 years. I got used to singing in really large venues in Vegas, Tahoe, and Atlantic City.”

During her two weeks at Feinstein’s in a show titled Sing One, Act Two, what will her repertoire be? “Well,” says Bergen, “I always was an acting singer. So, for me, it’s the ability to find songs that are one act plays. I’m not telling what my choices are, except to say that this is not like any show I’ve seen so far—and I’ve been out to see everyone lately, from the Algonquin and the Carlyle to Joe’s Pub, the FireBird and Arci’s. I don’t plan any trip down Memory Lane with an old time singer; I’m not one to deal in nostalgia. Let’s just say it’ll be very eclectic, with some standards and some fairly new songs, including two I haven’t heard anyone else do. I’m so excited and so terrified. I just hope I can do it.”

Little Nellie Burgin from Knoxville Tennessee can do anything she puts her mind to. Her mom and dad told her so, and they’ve been right so far.


Finding Her Voice Again
Polly Bergen restarts the music

"The last time I did a cabaret appearance in New York was 1968. Can you believe that?" says Polly Bergen, sitting calmly in her apartment while jackhammers rip up the street below.

"I don't think I knew at the time that it would be a farewell appearance, though I did plan to do more and more acting instead. But I'd been a very heavy smoker at that time, and I couldn't stand the sound of my own voice — I wouldn't even sing in the bathtub!"

But now, 32 years later, she's at it again — singing, that is. She's opening tomorrow night at Feinstein's at the Regency, and next month, she goes into rehearsal for the Roundabout Theater's revival of "Follies."

So what reawakened her interest in cabaret?

"Easy. About a year and a half ago, a friend sent some tapes of me, and I watched them. Surprise! I was better than I thought I'd been. I hadn't smoked in six or eight months then, so I called my manager, and he said go to a teacher and see if you can get your equipment back.

"That was good advice," she continues, "so I did. I took one lesson, and at the end I said, 'Tell me — I know that now I'm 70, I can't sing as well as I did in my 20s or 30s. But if I have even 80% of it back, I'd be thrilled.'

"She listened, and said she thought I'd be fine. Then came the challenge. I got a call asking me to do a benefit, a one-night concert version of 'Company' in Miami, in the role Elaine Stritch made famous — the 'Ladies Who Lunch' song. I had a month and a half to learn the role, and the night of the show I was a nervous wreck. But when I stepped out, it was as if nothing had happened."

Bergen reasoned that if she could do Sondheim, she could do anything. So she went out to Los Angeles and did three more charity shows, which prompted her manager to ask if she ever planned to sing for money.

"Then I heard Feinstein's was interested in me, and I said okay," Bergen says. "Then I auditioned for 'Follies' about the same time. My audition song was 'Ladies Who Lunch.' It was the only Broadway show tune I knew!" she adds with a laugh.

Bergen, who has been married three times and has two kids, is also a businesswoman and author. Although she may be best known for her role in the '80s miniseries "War and Remembrance," she has also had her own TV show, written three best-selling beauty books, recorded more than a dozen albums and founded a cosmetics company (she sold it to Faberge in 1973).

In other words, she has been keeping busy. So if she's in front of a live audience once again, it's not because she needs the work.

She just loves doing it.


WELL, BOYS, she's back. Polly Bergen is coming to town. It'll be an "above the titles" turnout for Polly's sold-out Tuesday opening of her two-week engagement at the elegant Feinstein's at The Regency on Park Avenue in New York. Among those reserved for ringside are Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, David Hasselhoff, Bernadette Peters, Arlene Dahl, Regis Philbin, Luther Henderson, Joan Rivers, Ginny Mancini, George Schlatter, Michele Lee, Dominick Dunne, Robert Cuccioli and even Polly's ex-husband Freddie Fields and his current wife, Corinna.


LIZ SMITH - JULY 26, 2000
POLLY BERGEN was well-known as a chanteuse before she became an actress and beauty expert (remember her Oil of the Turtle products?). Polly, still a beauty, returns to her roots when she! headlines Feinstein's at the Regency in New York, beginning Oct. 10. And she's taking her return to warbling even further — she'll record a new CD of standards.


[Flag Campaign icon]
Support freedom

Help support Meredy's Place by shopping here.

CLICK HERE to search for Polly Bergen merchandise

Webmasters Make $$$
Webmasters Make $$$

Web www.meredy.com


This site is purely a fan tribute to Polly Bergen and is not endorsed by her.
© Meredy - all rights reserved.

DISCLAIMER: The information presented here was collected from publicly aired and published sources. All materials are used without permission of their creators (who legally hold their respective copyrights). Where known, all articles and photos include credit information. Should any specific materials presented herein be considered in violation of copyright laws, the holder of the copyright should and the offending material will be promptly removed.