re: Beautifully produced Follies at Carnegie Hall!
Posted by: AlanScott 02:08 am EDT 06/22/24
In reply to: Beautifully produced Follies at Carnegie Hall! - Billhaven 11:44 pm EDT 06/20/24

I was not expecting to go to last night’s concert, but a friend who had a ticket was unable to make it and he gave me his ticket.

I’m going to be mostly (but not completely) nonspecific here about individual performances. I will get somewhat specific in a few cases because I want to reply what others have said.

Speaking generally, I enjoyed the first half (which, for those who weren't there, ended with "Who's That Woman?") a good deal. There were no earth-shattering performances (although my favorite performance of the evening was in the first half), and they were plenty of slightly off lyrics in both halves, but I thought only a few lyric errors were not minor ones. Given that there can't have been much rehearsal and they were singing in Carnegie Hall (which could make anyone nervous), I could forgive them. I felt kind of bad for that guy who did half of the spoken lines in "Loveland," and could not get even one of them right (screwing up the rhymes for every one he managed to sort of complete) and then just kind of gave up altogether. Must be tough to be on the stage of Carnegie and to have that happen. But these things happen.

I did not enjoy the second half as much, although most of the performances were perfectly OK and a couple were more than that (but not, I thought, great).

My favorite performance was Alexander Gemignani's "The Road You Didn't Take," a song that I was surprised he got to do, but he justified it. Among other things, I would have thought he was too young for it (although he's older than John McMartin was in the original production) and obviously he'd never be cast as Ben, but he did it very well. I was in the first row on house left (on the aisle) and I somehow didn’t see that he fell as he was leaving the stage. You don’t get a great overview of the whole stage from where I was sitting.

Regarding Lenox and Holliday, I will respond a little about each of them. I was expecting Holliday to do a lot more riffing that she did. I thought she was surprisingly restrained when it came to riffing, until the end, and even there she did less than I would have expected. I will also say that I didn't care much for her performance. I am pretty sure that I have never heard it sung so slowly. She made Dolores Grey's performance seem fast. I mean, when you go so slow that you sing "Abie's" (breath and short pause) "Irish Rose," it is too slow. I think there were other places where she broke up what should be complete phrases and not because she doesn’t have the ability to sustain phrases (I thought she was in very good voice) but because she went so very slowly.

It seemed to me that Lenox did a lot more riffing than Holliday did, but even though I usually hate that kind of thing when I comes to theatre songs, I thought "Broadway Baby" could take the degree of riffing she did. It is a performance song, after all, not a character song. A performer might do that with a song. I do wish that she hadn't broken up the "Oh"s but it's amazing (in a bad way) how many singers do that. I don’t think I ever heard anyone do that before Stritch, but now so many people do it, even though the two notes each time are written to be sung with no break.

The only song where I thought the tempo was particularly slow was "I'm Still Here."

Whoever did Sally's lines in "The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me Blues" did them better than I've ever heard anyone do them. It's a small bit, but she did it very well.

I have often been bothered (it seems that most people aren’t) by mismatches between the voices (including accents) of Heidi and Young Heidi. Even in 1971, Victoria Mallory did not especially sound like a young Justine Johnston (and Johnston was just 49 when the original production opened, and Mallory was just 21), but the mismatch was not extreme, as it was with Licia Albanese and Erie Mills. Last night’s “One More Kiss” was perfectly fine. Harolyn Blackwell’s voice sounded in good shape (almost too good, really, for the song to make its effect as a duet) at 68. What was odd to me about the pairing of Blackwell with Mikaela Bennett was that Bennett, although also singing well, kind of sounded older than Blackwell because she sings with a darker sound (the very opposite of the case in casting these two roles usually).

Ted Chapin and Kurt Peterson each got at least one thing wrong in their brief summaries of the book. With perhaps just one exception, there were not any especially new stories. I think some of the stories were perhaps not very accurately told. (I can't give details on those, they've slipped my mind.) I will mention that I was expecting the upshot of the Greer Garson "I'm Still Here" story to be Sondheim saying to Chapin, "Oh! I meant Jane Greer." I do kind of wonder if Sondheim perhaps did mean Jane Greer, but didn't say that to Chapin, possibly because he had forgotten (as he had forgotten ever writing the cut line that Chapin brought up) or because he didn’t want to tell Chapin that he was wrong in his book.

I think concerts like this may just not be especially for people like me who have a brilliant original production so imprinted on their brains. I know that most of the performers were trying to do their songs in character, but there is just a limit to how far you can go with that under these circumstances. The four original principals were perfect for those roles (even if McMartin was too young, which was a little obvious, although he was incredible, and Collins was also a bit young for the role, which wasn’t so obvious). And, obviously, those who did the pastiche numbers in the original had the style in their bones.

On the subject of performers making errors in lyrics of shows with Sondheim, I have heard them happen even after full rehearsal periods when performers are in the middle of runs. I have seen performers including Christine Baranski, John Dossett, Alexander Hanson, Bob Gunton and Beth Fowler make very big errors in shows with Sondheim scores, not to mention performers in the New York City Opera productions of Sweeney Todd and A Little Night Music.

Re the 1985 concert: I didn’t enjoy that a whole lot either, and probably for the same reason (at least partly), even though in that case the principal characters’ songs were not divided among multiple performers. But there wasn’t much rehearsal time and there wasn’t much book, even though there was more than last night. But James Goldman rewrote some of the dialogue and generally badly. And in the case of Ben’s lines during his breakdown, too many later productions have used some of those new and awful lines, and Kurt Peterson did that, too, last night.
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