ON THE RECORD: The New Cast Recording of Follies, Plus Hugh Martin's "Hidden Treasures"

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11 Dec 2011

Cover art for <i>Follies</i>
Cover art for Follies

This week's column discusses the cast album of the current Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman's Follies, plus a special recording from the archives of the late Hugh Martin.

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Follies: New Broadway Cast Recording [PS Classics PS-1105]
Between our recent two-part column examining the back catalogue of Follies cast albums and our book review of "Look, I Made a Hat," it almost feels like we've had too much Sondheim in the past month. (You can't have too much Sondheim, in my opinion, but you can have too much writing about Sondheim, can't you? Wait — my editor clearly disagrees!) The new original cast album of the current revival of Follies has now been released. We can't really leave that out of the discussion. Since I've filled this column with 10,000 or so Sondheim words recently, I will try to be briefer than I would be otherwise.

The composer has come out with an interview on Playbill.com, in which he says: "It's always dangerous to praise something you've been connected with, but I've got to say it's a really good cast album." Now, I can think of several of Mr. Sondheim's songwriting peers who see no such danger, being inclined to wildly praise any cast album, revival, or refrigerator magnet connected with any of their musicals. I don't find them indiscriminating, exactly; they simply see it as part of their job to serve as cheerleader to any and all enterprises which see fit to send royalty checks. That's fine for them, and why not?

Stephen Sondheim and Bernadette Peters at a recent CD signing.
photo by Monica Simoes

But Sondheim is not of that ilk. He is an ilk of his own, and a rarified one. New productions and offspring of his work come along with great frequency nowadays, and — publically, at least — never is heard an encouraging or discouraging word. Fans have not infrequently watched a subpar rendition of one of the master's masterworks and thought, has he actually approved this? But no; Sondheim usually stays out of it, offering neither praise nor pan but saying as little as he can diplomatically get away with.

Here, though, we have the composer himself opining that this new cast album is "really good." And I concur.

Tommy Krasker of PS Classics have given us the full score interwoven with numerous segments of the libretto which — in the opinion of Krasker and Sondheim — enhance the listening experience. So we get about 107 of the 135 or so minutes as performed at the Marquis. But not precisely as performed at the Marquis. Krasker went back to the original for remembered lines from James Goldman's script that have over the years been cut; this with full permission of the rights holders. Some of these changes for the recording have subsequently been incorporated into the revival.

For those interested in such things — which means, maybe, everyone who is reading this? — Krasker has offered a detailed explanation of what he has done and how and why he did it. This can be found on the label website (www.psclassics.com). Part of what you will find there is an account of Sondheim sitting at the recording session and changing the word "pitiful" to "sorrowful." (If you don't instantly recognize this — which means you just might be normal — it comes in "The Story of Lucy and Jessie," Phyllis' Loveland number: "Jessie wants to be lacy / Lucy wants to be Jessie / That's the sorrowful précis / It's very messy." Only it's now "pitiful précis.") Sondheim's comment: "I finally figured out the right word after 40 years."



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