Picks and Pans Review: Follies in Concert
For shame, PBS. May your mineral water go flat. May your compact discs warp. May your King Charles Spaniel lie down with a mutt. You butchered Follies. There's rich irony in that. Follies was a beloved musical from a man who makes nothing but beloved musicals, Stephen Sondheim. But when the cast recording was made in 1971, songs were cut in shreds and even left out, enraging rabid fans. So last fall, a cast extraordinaire—Lee Remick, Elaine Stritch, Carol Burnett, Barbara Cook, George Hearn, Phyllis Newman, Mandy Patinkin and more—came together with the New York Philharmonic to perform the definitive Follies. The album, with every lyric and note intact, is a delight. But now comes the TV show, where songs are once again cut in shreds or left out—repeating precisely the mistake this concert was meant to fix. About half of Follies remains. Where the music should be there is, instead, a mostly insipid documentary on the making of the concert. Singers talk about their songs instead of singing them. A duet by Cook and Hearn—two too-well-kept secrets of the New York theater—is cut by two-thirds. (But you can hear Cook in her own PBS special at 10:10 p.m. on March 13.) The crimes go on and on. I'm shocked that Sondheim would allow this to happen (just as I was shocked that he let Barbra Streisand cajole him into writing new lyrics to his songs for her Broadway album). But what you do see of Follies is enchanting. And the documentary has one great moment, showing the stars backstage before the concert, as nervous as Custer's troops before their last stand; that one moment makes them look very human. Next year, Showtime plans to do Follies once again. They'd perform a service if they restored what PBS cut. Follies itself deserves an A. For what they did to Follies, PBS deserves an F. But I'll be a nice teacher.