Oh, my! What am I to do now? The 2011 Broadway Revival Cast recording of Follies has just come out on PS Classics and now my “desert island” list of recordings I’d want with me if I was shipwrecked has two – count ’em, two – two-disc sets of the same score. Since the entire concept of a “desert island” list is to bring an unmanageable collection down to its essence, I guess I just have to have hope to be shipwrecked on a larger desert island! (Thank goodness for the ever increasing capacity of hard drives for computers!)
Let me make it quite clear, there is no way I’ll dispense with the Follies that has been on the list since it and one other two-disc set re-awakened my passion for musical theatre in the 1980s. That was Thomas Z. Shepard’s live recording of the New York Philharmonic’s concert presentation of the full score using Jonathan Tunick’s original orchestrations with stars such as Barbara Cook, Lee Rimick, George Hearn, Mandy Patinkin, Elaine Stritch and a whole lot more! Shepard put the atmosphere of an electrified concert hall onto those two discs, and I’ll treasure them forever.
Now, however, Tommy Krasker and Philip Chaffin have put the show – not the concert and not just the score (just?) but the feeling of the show itself – on disc. Through the use of judiciously selected snippets of dialogue, each number becomes part of a whole – part of the story-telling that is so gloriously accomplished in Mr. Sondheim’s twenty-one songs. As successful as Shepard was at capturing the experience of being at the concert in 1985, Krasker and Chaffin are equally proficient at capturing the experience of being in the theater in 2011.
This revival, under the direction of Eric Schaeffer, began at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC and is currently playing in the Marquis Theatre on Broadway in a limited run which ends January 22nd. It is limited because the cast is made up of such stars that one supposes it would be impossile to sign all of them to longer contracts. (The Ahmanson in Los Angeles has just announced that the production will transfer there, [opening May 3rd,] but they haven’t announced any casting yet.)
Stars? Bernadette Peters, whose “Losing My Mind” is mesmerizing. Jan Maxwell, whose “Could I Leave You?” burns white hot. Danny Burstein, whose “The ‘God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me?’ Blues” tops a seemingly untoppable “The Right Girl.” Ron Raines, whose rich voice makes “The Road You Didn’t Take” an introspective exploration.
These are just the stars whose names go above the title. Below the title you’ll find Elaine Page who nails “I’m Still Here,” and the likes of Mary Beth Peil (“Ah, Paris”), Jane Houdyshell (“Broadway Baby”) and Terri White (“Who’s That Woman?”) as some of the former “Follies” girls approaching old age and a passel of younger performers you will probably hear more about in the years to come portraying their younger selves. Appropriately for this show, the label surface of Disc One features the images of Peters, Maxwell, Burstein and Raines while Disc Two displays their young former selves in the persons of Kirsten Scott, Nick Verina, Lora Lee Gayer and Christian Delcroix.
While the discs are programmed with separate tracks for the dialogue snippets between the songs and, therefore, it is possible to program just the song tracks (that is Disc One’s tracks 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14 and 16, plus Disc Two’s 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12,13,14 and 15) there are smaller pieces of dialogue within the song tracks which will draw attention during a purely musical listen. The recording is really meant for a full-attention, serious listen and it rewards such a dedication of two solid hours time and time again.
The beautiful 52-page booklet contains just about everything you expect from a first-class, two-disc set. Sean Patrick Flahaven has written a clear synopsis. Tommy Krasker includes a note explaining his approach using some dialogue. The complete lyrics (including the text of the dialogue snippets) are printed along with twenty color photos that give a very accurate portrayal of the look of the show.
Also included is a five page essay on the show which can deepen your appreciation for it. Patrick Pacheco, in his effort to find some new things to say about one of the most written-about shows in Broadway’s history, stretches a bit too far from time to time so it might be best to hold off reading it until you are thoroughly familiar with the show through this superb recording.
Pacheco pulls in some terms that may send you to your dictionary of foreign phrases to follow his points. I’ll save you some trouble: I looked up both “Walpurgisnacht” (it is the night before May day, a witch and goblin semi-holiday similar to Halloween in some central European areas) and “cri de coeur” (a passionate cry in the night). I didn’t have to look up doppelganger, I already knew that meant an apparition resembling a real person.
I do have two other nits to pick. One involves the photos in the booklet. As good as they are and as good a selection as was made, they are not given captions so it wouldn’t always be clear to someone who hasn’t seen the show just who is who and what song or scene is represented. This problem for those who haven’t seen the show is compounded by the placement of the photos. For example, a photo of Danny Burstein playing Buddy is on the page where the text of Ben’s song “Too Many Mornings” appears. It would be less confusing if they had slipped the photo over one column to the right so it would be on the page where the text of Buddy’s “The Right Girl” is printed.
Also, I do wish they had decided to include the exit music as it is performed in the theater. That would have been an additional delight.