Forty-five years ago today, Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant, frustrating Follies played its first Broadway preview at the Winter Garden Theatre. “Trove Thursday” celebrates that anniversary—and Sondheim’s 86th birthday this past Tuesday—with a live recording of the complete show featuring its original cast featuring Dorothy Collins, Alexis Smith, Gene Nelson, John McMartin and Yvonne DeCarlo.
The five astonishing Sondheim shows that premiered during the 1970s—Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures and Sweeney Todd–are among the greatest in the history of musical theater and each is as unlike the others as possible. Despite its problematic book by James Goldman, Follies is perhaps my favorite, a glorious, hallucinatory reunion of former showgirls.
The original-cast recording has been damned for being drastically truncated, a tragedy for such a complex and musically rich show. Today’s offering will perhaps right that wrong—to experience the wondrous “Loveland” sequence in its entirely is reason enough to give a listen.
I suspect this particular recording is unlike any other—it was given to me by a friend, a genuine Follies-nut. He went to many shows during the original run including the fabled closing-night performance that everyone claims to have attended. He is also thanked for his assistance in the writing of Everything Was Possible, Ted Chapin’s marvelous account of the fraught genesis of the show.
Apparently a number of in-house recordings were made during its Broadway run, but my friend wanted his “perfect” Follies recording. Since DeCarlo and Nelson were notorious for screwing up the lyrics to “I’m Still Here” and “Buddy’s Blues,” he dubbed in corrections from the OCR to make this “flawless” document. (But be warned Roscoe bungles the climax of “Beautiful Girls.”)
I came to know—and love–this show from Follies in Concert, the superb 2-LP set recorded in 1985 in part to make up for the OCR’s drastic cuts. Although that later recording is now out of print, a documentary was made of the rehearsals and concerts given by the New York Philharmonic and it contains a lot of great stuff—including unfortunately Licia Albanese’s dire “One More Kiss.”
For me, the revelation of this document is the Sally of Collins. As much as I love Barbara Cook on the NYPhil version, Collins is just as good vocally and the shocking intensity of her dramatic performance is devastating. During that initial run, Smith got the magazine covers and won the Tony award, but it’s Collins who is the gripping soul of Follies, especially compared to Bernadette Peters’s bitterly disappointing recent portrayal.
In addition to this complete audio recording, a YouTube user called “1971FolliesFan” has cobbled together an hour-long abridged version of the show from clips shot either on Broadway or during the subsequent Los Angeles run. This video provides fascinating glimpses of Harold Prince and Michael Bennett’s fabled production and the lavish costumes by Florence Klotz, but unfortunately doesn’t give much idea of the celebrated Boris Aronson sets.
Next week, we will return to something operatic–from earlier in the 20thth century.
Photo (showgirl): Martha Swope.