This surreal musical is draped in singing, dancing and live music from an eight-piece orchestra.

Art will certainly imitate life in the eyes of lead actress Gerri WeSagraff and many of her peers in New Candlelight Theatre's musical "Follies… In Concert," which opens tonight and will run through Sunday.

"Follies… In Concert" is set in 1971 at a time when theatrical impresario Dimitri Weissmann hosts a reunion of ex-follies (or performers) at his decrepit theater on the eve it's slated to be demolished and converted into a parking lot. The follies, who haven't graced the theater's stage in about 30 years, return to their old stomping ground, but not without lugging a little drama with them.

Clustered with the drama is singing, dancing and live music from an eight-piece orchestra.

Directed by Peter Bricotto, and written by James Goldman with lyrics and music by Stephen Sondheim, the production serves as a fundraiser and will be held in memory and honor of New Candlelight's late co-owner John O'Toole (who passed in 2011), former president Lee Goldstein (who passed in February of this year) and arguably the theatre's most beloved actor, Terry Johnson (who passed in 1993).

Proceeds will benefit future capital projects at New Candlelight, including the purchase of a new stage slated for 2013, said Bricotto, who also serves as New Candlelight's fundraising chair.

New Candlelight aims to raise $7,500 from the four "Follies" shows, Bricotto said.

Impersonating life

As the ex-follies reunite decades later at their beloved theater —Weagraff can't help but feel like a piece of her own life has ironically made its way into the script while she plays the role of retired performer Phyllis Stone Rogers.

"Some of the people in this cast are people who I haven't performed with in literally 30 years," said Weagraff, 50, of Wilmington, who debuted at New Candlelight in 1987 as Laurie in "Oklahoma."

Prior to the first rehearsal of "Follies" on Sept. 19, Weagraff hadn't seen fellow New Candlelight actor Lou DiMarino — who's playing lead actor Buddy Plummer in the show — from about the time "he sang at my wedding in 1987," she recalled.

A reason some of the performers haven't seen one another in ages is because a couple of them have relocated to other states, as in the case of DiMarino, who moved to New York in the 1980s and has lived there since, said Bricotto, 24, of Middletown.

The ole' gang

In addition, many longtime performers of New Candlelight leaped at the chance to perform in "Follies," as a way of paying tribute to Johnson, O'Toole and Goldstein. "Follies" made this possible since the show is designed around characters between the ages of 40 through 70-plus. This age range is significant since many of the folks who worked closely with Johnson, O'Toole and Goldstein are now between the ages of 40-plus, Bricotto said.

Goldstein's widow, Cindy, also appears in "Follies," playing the role of Heidi Schiller, a former Broadway legend now in her golden years.

"The show has the feel of a high school reunion," Bricotto said.

That feeling isn't only due to the literal homecoming taking place with the cast, but it also has much to do with the show's characters being confronted by people from their past, while at the crumbling theater, which makes some of the ex-follies "feel inadequate," while others have grown more "secure" in themselves — just like at a high school reunion.

"The storyline itself is gripping," Bricotto said.

WHAT New Candlelight Theatre presents 'Follies'
WHEN 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27; 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28; 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29; 1 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 30
WHERE New Candlelight Theatre, 2208 Millers Road, Wilmington
COST $30; $45 VIP (includes beer, wine, and light fare)
INFO or 475-2313