Monday, January 16, 2012

Follies (CD Review)

There are two components to a review of the recording of a musical: the discussion of the musical itself and the discussion of its presentation on the CD. Since four of us on this blog have reviewed the current production of Follies a total of six times (see links below), this post will focus on the CD itself.

And an excellent CD it is.

Its main claim to fame is that it is two discs, totaling almost 100 minutes (my estimate), with previously unrecorded chunks of dialogue. Producer Tommy Krasker explains in the CD booklet that the aim was "to do an expansive recording that not only conveyed the glories of the score, but captured the experience of the show itself." To the extent that a purely audio version could do so, this CD achieves Krasker's goal. While I suspect the CD will be more evocative for people who are already familiar with Follies, even a newcomer will get some of the flavor of the book. (I don't think that this CD expresses the full flavor of the Follies score, but my complaint is with the production rather than with the recording per se.)

Recreating dialogue for a recording is a particular skill, I think, and not everyone has it. Jan Maxwell, for example, sounds very good: clear and in character and completely believable. Ron Raines sounds stiff and unconvincing. Bernadette Peter's performance is calmer than the weepy one she often gives on stage, but her delivery of some of the lines remains downright embarrassing. Danny Burstein comes across fine. Elaine Paige is so hampered by trying to have an American accent that her dialogue comes out murky and marble-mouthed, and her timing is mediocre. (Polly Bergen's performance in the Roundabout Production was so much richer and funnier and sadder and realer that Paige seems like a cardboard cutout in comparison.)

The CD booklet is beautiful, with the complete lyrics and many pictures. It also includes an interesting essay on the show by Patrick Pacheco, Krasker's "Note From the Album Producer," and a synopsis by Sean Patrick Flahaven, which is somewhat overwritten ("To eyes unfocused by nostalgia and alcohol, it might appear that no time at all has passed . . .") but useful.

If you are a Sondheim completist, you must have this CD. And if you loved this production and its performances, you will find this CD to be a treasure.

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