Listen to the Rain on the Roof


I actually don’t fully understand the business model behind offering a complete album for free online. But I guess it helps get us away from the pirates and builds interest in actually buying the album. So NPR, which had the complete album of The Book of Mormon for free, now has the complete recording of the current Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies. It’ll be available on the website for a week, and then we’ll have to pay money to hear it.

I have only listened once, not enough to decide what I think about it, though I know I’ll be buying it. Every version of Follies is a problem, because the show is so huge and difficult to cast, because it has certain built-in structural problems that can’t be solved (though the 1987 London rewrite, which the writers later disowned as too compromised, did apparently add more of a story element to the show, and – not coincidentally, I think – was the only version that ever made money). And because the original cast recording was cut to pieces – almost every song had internal cuts made to it because the producer was under orders to get it all on one LP – there’s no “definitive” recording: the best cast is the original, but you can’t recommend a recording of the original cast except bootlegs made in the theatre.

This one has advantages that the other two complete recordings don’t have. The 1985 concert recording was a glamorous event, but a lot of the people in it were cast for name recognition rather than appropriateness. And the 1998 recording sounds very studio-bound even though it was based on a production at the Paper Mill Playhouse. This new recording is based on a real theatre production and sounds like it, and the theatrical feel is important to a show that is almost purely a theatre piece (it has no plot, and musical theatre itself is one of its main subjects). I haven’t made up my mind whether I think Bernadette Peters is right for this, granted that my thoughts on it are coloured by Dorothy Collins from the original cast recording and Victoria Clark, who I thought was one of the highlights of the Encores! concert version: this part and its songs work best for me when they’re delivered in a simple, un-mannered way. But as a complete statement of the score, this is certainly a recording I’m already glad to have. It’s just that any recording of Follies is, more even than for most musicals, a supplement to the memory of seeing it. It was a show that already seemed like a legendary show from the past when it was still in its first run.

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Listen to the Rain on the Roof

  1. As American Thanksgiving approaches are you going to be posting that “Turkey lurkey” thing again?  Man, that is crazy.

    • Probably not (it’s really a Christmas dance anyway). But boy, Michael Bennett really did create many of the most memorable moments on Broadway from about 1968 to DREAMGIRLS or so (FOLLIES was co-directed and choreographed by him).

  2. I wouldn’t particularly say that ‘Follies’ in London had ‘more of a story element’ – it was just less surreal, and less painfully bleak at the end. I’m also not entirely sure that it turned a profit, though it ran longer than the show has done in any other production, and may have come close to paying back.

    I have the new recording pre-ordered too, of course, and I’ve listened to it online already. There’s a lot I like about it, and a few things I *really* like about it (Jayne Houdyshell, Elaine Paige’s fierce take on ‘I’m Still Here’, Mary Beth Peil). Having heard her tracks three times now, Peters… is not among the things I like. “In Buddy’s Eyes” is a stretch for her vocally (compare her top notes to Julia McKenzie’s on the London recording) and she doesn’t make it work for her (I honestly prefer Donna McKechnie’s performance of the song, and McKechnie was even more out of her depth in the last 16 bars), and her “Losing My Mind” is an overwrought, self-indulgent mess. Shame, because with a less inept performance in that key role, this recording would almost be definitive.

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