ON THE RECORD: Hats Off! A Survey of Follies Recordings, Part Two London and Paper Mill and More

By Steven Suskin
06 Nov 2011

Cover art for Sondheim: A Musical Tribute

So the winner of the Follies cast album sweepstakes, thumbs down (or thumbs up?), is the maligned-but-unequaled 1971 recording from Capitol. Which the true fan will want to supplement with another recording which supplements the real and historic Follies. On the evening of March 11, 1973 — eight months after the show closed, two weeks after A Little Night Music opened — Kurt Peterson (who had originated the role of Young Ben) produced a Sondheim benefit at the Shubert. Burt Shevelove directed, with choreography by Donna McKechnie, and Paul Gemignani in the pit. This was more or less "Sondheim, The Story So Far," coming in the days before Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods. Veterans from various Sondheim musicals were on hand to reprise their original numbers, including 11 Follies alumni. (The benefit was, as I said, produced by Kurt Peterson of Follies.)

Live recordings of benefits are rarely instructive, with voracious audience reaction only marring things. Sondheim: A Musical Tribute [RCA 60515-2-RC], though, is very much to the point. Smith and Collins sing their big numbers, "Could I Leave You?" and "Losing My Mind." These are impeccably performed on the 1971 cast album, but the later performances are equally moving. (Smith clearly is enjoying herself.) Collins is joined by McMartin for "Too Many Mornings," here presented in the original extended version which includes the cut introductory section, "Pleasant Little Kingdom."

Of great importance was the until-then vanished "One More Kiss," recreated by Justine Johnston and Victoria Mallory. The 1971 recording studio track of "One More Kiss" eventually surfaced, when the original cast album was reissued on CD, but for 20 years the "Musical Tribute" album was the only place to hear Johnston and Mallory sing their duet. (Mallory was apparently Sondheim's favorite soprano at the time. In 1968 she played Maria — to Kurt Peterson's Tony — in the first major revival of West Side Story, at the New York State Theatre. Follies came next, followed by the role of Anne Egerman in A Little Night Music.)

Even more important, perhaps, was Ethel Shutta's full-length rendition of "Broadway Baby," which had been abbreviated by half on the Capitol album. Shutta sure knows how to work the audience. The CD includes two Follies surprises. Larry Blyden — who had just won a Tony Award for his Hysterium in the 1972 revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum — shows us that "Buddy's Blues" can indeed be a joy. He is assisted not by two chorus girls, as in the show, but by Ms. McKechnie and an especially flavorful Chita Rivera. Finally, we get the most glorious "I'm Still Here" I've heard. Nancy Walker sings it, rueful, sardonic, and indestructible.

(Steven Suskin is author of the recently released updated and expanded Fourth Edition of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble" and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also pens Playbill.com's Book Shelf and DVD Shelf columns. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)


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