Forget the fact that it is summer and not February. The Greenwich Village Follies might just be one of the purest, most beautiful valentines audiences will see anywhere all year. More showcase than show, Follies—now playing at Manhattan Theater Source as part of its Straight from the Source series this summer—is a lively salute to Village history and locales, including local haunts like Chumley's, the famed speakeasy. It is filled with musical numbers by co-creators Andrew Frank (who also directed) and Doug Silver. (The two based their idea on an original premise by Fran Kirmser.)
This revue covers important moments selected by Frank and Silver, in chronological order. First, a cast member will provide a brief historical recap, then the ensemble performs a song based on the event, starting with the colonization of Manhattan Island. Some of these numbers are quite serious; a highlight is "On Our Corner," a moving ballad that captures the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 with a perspective that is more ethereal than melodramatic.
Others are surprisingly humorous, such as the rebellious chant repeated by those assaulted during the Stonewall riots of 1969, a series of violent confrontations between police and gay rights activists. Silver himself provides musical accompaniment on keyboards, while Eric Laufer provides percussion.
The four outstanding cast members—two men and two women—prove to be an irresistible combination. John-Andrew Morrison, the most dominant presence, has an ebullient personality that is perfect for audience interaction (which includes a trivia contest) and in many of the show's more comic moments. He also has a terrific, soulful voice. In one of the production's more surprising moments, he dramatizes a poem written by Village denizen Edna St. Vincent Millay ("The Dream") and delivers a stirring showstopper.
Charlie Parker, one of the two actresses, is also a strong presence. One of her funniest sketches is "Resist the Grid," a humorous account of how, in all parts of the city, only the West Village differs from New York's rectangular street-grid layout. Patti Goettlicher has a beautiful voice and a good comic edge, put on display in "NYU" and "Dildo," two of the show's more adult numbers.
Particularly impressive is the quartet's more low-key member, Guy Olivieri. He too has a great voice and subtle reactions. One standout sketch for him is "Splatter Me All Over," in which he plays Jackson Pollock, with Parker serving as his canvas. (Follies also spotlights Village local Sharon Fogarty as a guest performer.)
Frank and Silver could still tinker with their creation. A few of the numbers could be lifted out, including the similar "Smoke Smoke (Hey Man)" and "Peace Peace (Love Love)." They offer very little commentary, merely acknowledging the drug use and free love of the 60s, and make the show seem a little too reliant on chant numbers. I am sure Frank and Silver could choose another event or two from the Village's history to act out instead. Another sketch, "Potter's Field/The Tell-Tale Heart," doesn't really provide any new information about Edgar Allen Poe. Perhaps Frank and Silver could choose a different work of Poe's to celebrate the famed poet.
And yet these quibbles seem very petty in a show that does so much right. With two creators so passionate and four gifted performers leading the production, the only folly here would be to not catch this show.