By Steven Suskin
06 Nov 2011
The previous On the Record column took us through discussion of the first two of the four currently existing cast albums of Stephen Sondheim's Follies; a fifth cast album, from the revival presently at the Marquis, is due later this month from PS Classics. This column continues the discussion.
(Among the dozens of emails that came in last week was one from a reader who so needed to see the original production in 1971 that he journeyed to the Winter Garden at risk of arrest, sneaking in from Canada and slipping back out again. Well worth it, he said — but I don't suppose it would have been if he'd been imprisoned for evading the draft.)
Cameron Mackintosh, who met early success with the 1976 revue Side by Side by Sondheim and unfathomable fortune with Cats, demonstrated his support of Sondheim in 1987 by presenting a lavish London premiere of Follies [First Night OCR CD6019]. This was a somewhat rethought and rewritten version, with Sondheim providing four new songs. Which, alas, takes it out of the running in a comparative view of Follies recordings. Here, Ben sings neither "The Road You Didn't Take" or "Live, Laugh, Love," which I consider two of the all-important songs in the score.
One of the new songs, a duet for Ben and Phyllis called "Country House," I quite enjoy. (I also find it to be very much of a musical piece with Sondheim's Into the Woods, which workshopped in 1986 and opened on Broadway three months after the London Follies.) None of the new songs was much of an improvement — this from the composer, in his lyrics collection "Finishing the Hat" — but "Ah, But Underneath," a replacement solo for Phyllis in Loveland — is now a Sondheim-sanctioned alternate for "The Story of Lucy and Jessie" in cases where the woman who plays Phyllis is more singer than dancer. The other three songs — "Country House," "Loveland" (a replacement for the 1971 song of that title) and "Make the Most of Your Music" (a replacement for "Live, Laugh, Love") — have not been incorporated into subsequent productions of Follies.
Three of the leads are intriguing performers. Diana Rigg played Phyllis, with Sondheim accommodating her by writing that new song; Julia McKenzie, of Side by Side by Sondheim (and later a dynamic Mrs. Lovett), played Sally. The London Ben was Daniel Massey, who in 1963 gave one of my favorite original cast album performances — opposite the aforementioned Barbara Cook — as Georg in Hal Prince's original production of She Loves Me. Buddy was played by Daniel Healy, who had won an Olivier rockin' the boat as Nicely Nicely Johnson in Richard Eyre's 1982 revival of Guys and Dolls to Ms. McKenzie's Adelaide. All are okay, though none stand out. I'd like to have heard Massey singing Ben's real songs, though.
The only performance on this disc that does stand out, to these ears anyway, is the Carlotta of Dolores Gray. Who, like many of the original Broadway cast, had indeed careered from career to career, only to wind up in her mid-50s with one last chance at a comeback in the London company of Follies.Continued...