“I wanted something when I came here 30 years ago but I forgot to write it down”
Is Follies a show you can really just listen to? Many clearly agree but having got through this double-disc cast recording of Eric Schaeffer’s production of Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s show from 2011, I’m not sure enough of it really translates on record. This is quite possibly coloured by the fact that I saw it for the first time earlier this year in a most fun semi-staged concert version at the Royal Albert Hall and memories are that are still strong.
So the interplay of past and present, the ghostly presence of the showgirls and the younger selves of the central foursome, doesn’t really come across. This recording tries to address that by including lengthy passages of scene-setting dialogue but without that initial familiarity with the material, it’s hard to see how much it would really help – plus there’s something moving in the sight of a group of veteran actors given such agency on a stage, it should definitely be produced more, difficult or no.
Musically, it is a strong show, its revue format means the load is pretty evenly spread across a large cast, given most everyone a chance to shine. Here, Mary Beth Peil (always a favourite, whether Dawson’s Creek’s Grams or the indomitable Jackie Florrick) is huge fun in ‘Ah, Paris!’, Jayne Houdyshell delivers a powerful ‘Broadway Baby’, Terri White is fiercely good in ‘Who’s That Woman’ despite the lack of visual and Elaine Paige’s inimitable style reminds us all that ‘I’m Still Here’.
Of the leads, well I found them a mixed bunch. Jan Maxwell’s Phyllis is dryly sardonic in all the right places and Danny Burstein’s Buddy dials down the showmanship to make him if not likeable, then certainly relatable. But Ron Raines’ Ben is comparatively weak and heretical though it may be to say it, I wasn’t much a huge fan of Bernadette Peters’ Sally, finding her tragically annoying as opposed to just tragic (and annoying, none of the characters are that nice, all told). So not a soundtrack I’d return to in a hurry though that’s more to do with the show than this particular recording.