ON THE RECORD: Follies, Once More; Original Cast Album Gets Refreshed

By Steven Suskin
September 9, 2012

This week's column discusses the newly-mastered release of the original Broadway cast album of Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman's Follies.



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Follies [Kritzerland KR 20023]
After writing a two-column survey of Follies cast albums last fall (Part One  and Part Two) plus a review of the cast album of the 2011 Broadway revival, I kinda thought that in terms of Follies, I went about as far as I could go. For now, anyway, but here comes a sonically enhanced new version of the original 1971 recording. This limited edition sold out its 1,500 copies so quickly that I decided against reviewing it, on the assumption that it would already be unavailable by the time this column was posted. But a second pressing of 1,000 has been rushed through, so I suppose there is reason to discuss Follies once again, here and now.

Many cast album reissues on CD — and reissues of reissues — are at least cleaned up by the sound engineers; when the original materials from the recording session have been located and are in good condition, the album can be remixed altogether. That is to say, they can start from scratch with the very same material that the engineer had back when the album was recorded. Back in the old days, cast albums were rushed affairs; recorded on Sunday, mixed on Monday, sent off to the manufacturing plant on Tuesday, and on sale the following week. Which means that the mixing was done in a rush, and the engineer didn't necessarily have much of a feel for the score. (Recordings from Columbia Records — the king of the original cast album, at the Time — usually sounded very good, presumably because producer Goddard Lieberson had a staff which specialized in this sort of thing.)

Bruce Kimmel, of Kritzerland, has a long history of bringing Broadway cast albums to CD; he seems to have been the first person to license out-of-print titles and give them new life, back before the labels realized there was enough of a market to make them financially feasible. Of late, he has been doing limited licenses of lapsed shows; in two cases, Promises, Promises and Sugar, he fully remixed the recordings from the original tapes. Why, he wondered, not Follies?

The original cast album of Follies was, famously, problematic. Long-playing records could hold just under 60 minutes-worth; enough for a fair representation of most musicals, but not enough for the musically-bountiful Follies. (Most shows have well more than an hour of music, but few listeners mind when you leave off dance music, ballets, unimportant reprises, etc.) Yes, you could make it into a two-record set, as had been done for shows like She Loves Me and the Follies-competitor Two Gentlemen of Verona.

But Follies was not at Columbia — which due to their success with Sondheim's West Side Story, Gypsy and Company — were perhaps likelier to stretch the budget. They were at Capitol, which despite a number of impressive best-sellers in the past (led by The Music Man and Funny Girl) was by that point a small-fry in the cast album field. Looking at the outsized costs — and observing that the reaction to the show in Boston and during New York previews was far from enthusiastic — Capitol made the decision to stick to one LP. Which necessitated cutting several numbers ("Rain on the Roof," "One More Kiss," the instrumental "Bolero d'Amour" and "Loveland") and — more damagingly — severely truncating several others. Add this to what we might call haphazard recording and engineering, and we were left with a recording that was remarkable for the songs and performances it contained but something of a bandaged invalid.

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Dorothy Collins and Gene Nelson
photo by Martha Swope

Follies was transferred to CD in 1990, at which point "One More Kiss" — which had been recorded at the original sessions — was added, given the larger disc capacity. The recording was quickly given a more careful remastering in 1992 when Angel/EMI bought the Capitol catalogue. This latter version was considerably improved, but that's the original cast Follies we have been living with. Sound studio technology has come a long way since 1992, so by now there is plenty of room for improvement.

But that's not what makes this newest edition of Follies a truly enhanced listening experience. Whoever took the original session tapes and put them back together again — apparently it was sound engineer John Adams, supervised by Kimmel — seems to know the score. The score, the performances, and the orchestrations. The new mix accentuates the positives of the original sessions, if you will. Vocals are, thankfully, clearer, but that's just the beginning. Up to 41 musicians are playing at a time. (The show had 26 in the pit plus a four-man onstage band. For the recording, Capitolsprang for an extra 11 players.) Who do you hear? What do you hear? What isn't, especially, pushed to the forefront?

In this case, they seem to have sat around the room saying, "I love that countermelody here," and "what about that fill there?" and "don't forget this or that or the other." Anyplace orchestrator Jonathan Tunick gave someone a lovely little solo, you are likely to hear it. Which gives us what sound like new musical colors, accompanying the strengthened and amplified voices of the cast.

Follies — as well as such Sondheim/Tunick shows as A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along and Into the Woods — has always been a tapestry of voices and colors woven together in an intricate but perfect weave. This has not changed here; it's simply that this new release lets us hear it clearer, and thus more fully appreciate it.

Your delight in this CD is likely to be high, although your level of surprise will depend somewhat on just how familiar you already are with Follies. Those of us who have heard the full orchestration many dozens of times — either live or on the several recordings that have used them — are unlikely to discover much that is new. We will simply hear it much better, and appreciate how this mix puts things in order. I've discovered only one thing that's "new" to me (although it's always been there). There is a pulsing electric guitar that begins midway through "In Buddy's Eyes" — at the break in the lyric ("I married the right man, Ben") — and continues through the rest of the song like an irregular heartbeat. There comes a lyrical section at the end of the song ("and all I ever dreamed I'd be. . .") in which what had been a strict 4/4 beat alternates between 5/4 and 6/4. In the new mix, we can clearly hear that Tunick continues this guitar heartbeat — against the musical beat — making Sally seem even more hopelessly lost.

Some listeners — most of whom do not seem to have seen the original Production — have noted that this new edition brings new admiration for the performance of Dorothy Collins as Sally. I suppose that is understandable; perhaps her vocals were clouded or shrouded or understressed in the original mix. I've never found this to be so, personally; for me, Collins standing stranded in the middle of the (stage) floor — "not going left, not going right" — is the key image, visually and emotionally, of the original production of Follies.

So let us welcome and highly recommend this new release. (If you perchance do not already own a copy of the 1971 cast album, it is indispensable for the reasons discussed in the Follies round-up columns linked above.) All praise to Kimmel and his engineer Adams and the folks at Kritzerland. But while they have gloriously enhanced the recording, what makes this sound so good are the orchestrations of Jonathan Tunick — which were always there on the tapes, just not especially audible. The same could be said for the performances by the original cast, and the musical direction by Hal Hastings.

But it all, always, goes back to Mr. Sondheim. We've heard Follies — along with Night Music, Sweeney and the Others — over and over, again and again. Even so, the music and lyrics continually impress, surprise and enthrall us.

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(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," the "Broadway Yearbook" series 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.)