This one is a bit unusual, and a little bit retro, but something I’ve been meaning to publish. I saw “Follies” on Broadway around November 2011, a number of weeks before I started this blog, and I reviewed the musical on this site while the show was still running. It was my first experience with this particular Stephen Sondheim work, and I absolutely loved the production. It starred Bernadette Peters as Sally(adorable as ever, and ultimately heartbreaking), Jan Maxwell as Phyllis (OUTSTANDING, as well as Tony-nominated), Danny Burstein as Buddy(typically terrific, with a Tony nom too), and Ron Raines as Ben(solid, but honestly, the least memorable of the cast, for me—he also grabbed a Tony nomination). There was also fantastic support work from Elaine Paige, Jayne Houdyshell(the show’s fourth Tony-nominated perf!)and Don Correia. “Follies” eventually lost the Best Revival of a Musical Tony to a very controversial(but extremely successful)update of “Porgy and Bess”…a production I didn’t see, so I will refrain from maligning. It’s difficult for me to imagine it being superior to “Follies” though…Audra McDonald, or not. But, of course, the best news was the reality of PS Classics releasing a two-disc cast album of “Follies”, a short time after I saw it. Was it able to reproduce the thrill of witnessing “Follies” live on stage? I’ll say…it’s among the very best cast recordings I’ve ever added to my collection.
Where to begin? Shall it be the lovely, tone-setting rendition of the first act’s “Beautiful Girls” numbers, sung by most of the sizable cast? Or how about that standout belting from Jayne Houdyshell, as she knocks “Broadway Baby” out of the theater?. That song was a superb showcase, live on the Broadway stage, and the CD captures it wonderfully. The renowned Elaine Paige opens disc 2 and Act Two, with a rousing rendition of “I’m Still Here”. You may applaud while listening in your car…fight the urge, it’s not safe! In any case, you should save it for Jan Maxwell’s incredible “Could I Leave You?”, closer to the middle of that 2nd disc. You’ll find yourself scratching your head realizing Ms. Maxwell lost in the Tony race that season(to Audra McDonald, of course…who else?)! Ms. Peters wrenches that beating muscle out of my chest, whenever I hear “Losing My Mind”. And Danny Burstein is absolutely superb, juggling the myriad complexities of “The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me Blues”. This is an absolutely fantastic cast recording from an extremely rich and intelligent Broadway musical. I couldn’t possibly give it anything less than my highest possible rating, considering that I’ve most likely listened to this cast recording, more than any that I’ve purchased it the last 4 years. It’s a must own, the cover capture of the show’s window card is excellent, and it’s beautifully packaged and supplemented. This cast recording rates a full 10.