The Second Disc

Expanded and Remastered Music News

Hey, Mr. Producer: A Second Disc Interview! Talking Remastered, Remixed Edition of Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies” with Bruce Kimmel

with 2 comments

Hats off, here it comes: the Kritzerland label is unveiling a new edition of the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s Follies, but the Broadway babies and girls upstairs will likely have never sounded better.  Following similar releases for Promises, Promises and Sugar, Kritzerland has completely remixed and remastered Capitol Records’ 1971 Follies, affording listeners the opportunity to hear a Sondheim masterwork anew.  The label began accepting pre-orders last evening at midnight for the limited edition of 1,500, so those interested shouldn’t delay.  It’s priced at $19.98 and scheduled to ship the last week in August, but those familiar with the label know that they can expect it even earlier.

Though The New York Times’ Clive Barnes initially dismissed Sondheim’s score as “the kind of the musical that should have its original cast album out on 78s,” it’s since been appreciated as one of the great composer/lyricist’s triumphs.  Barnes failed to see that it was a musical unlike any other.  In this phantasmagorical mélange, past met present, reality met illusion, and audiences were asked to confront their own follies via mirrors metaphorical and literal.  Even the title was weighted with multiple meanings, never better reflected than in David Edward Byrd’s poster art, with the visage of a beautiful Follies girl, irrevocably shattered.  Follies revolves around the reunion of the Weismann Girls (think the Ziegfeld Girls) at a theatre set for demolition.  Almost immediately, secrets are revealed and relationships forever altered.

The production, co-directed by Harold Prince and choreographer Michael Bennett, both coming off Sondheim’s Company (1970), is still spoken of as one of the grandest spectacles in Broadway history, not just for Boris Aronson’s luscious set and Florence Klotz’s period-perfect costumes, but for the haunting performances of its four leads: Alexis Smith (Phyllis), Gene Nelson (Buddy), Dorothy Collins (Sally) and John McMartin (Ben) and a stellar supporting cast including Yvonne DeCarlo (Carlotta), Ethel Shutta (Hattie) and Mary McCarty (Stella).  When producer Prince took Follies to Capitol Records, it was a shocking move, especially considering the remarkable recording of Company produced by Columbia’s Thomas Z. Shepard just one season earlier, and the longtime patronage of Sondheim by Columbia President Goddard Lieberson.  Capitol sealed Follies’ fate when the label elected to record Sondheim’s sprawling and ambitious score (fusing classic Broadway pastiche with a contemporary sensibility) on one LP rather than the double-album it would have taken to preserve the entire score.  Internal cuts were made to some songs, and cut others entirely, for the album produced by Dick Jones.  One song, “One More Kiss,” was later reinstated on CD, but the other missing material simply wasn’t recorded in the first place.

As a result, the original cast recording of Follies has caused, in reissue producer Bruce Kimmel’s words, “a love/hate relationship for fans of the show…but what it did have made it something that, despite the frustrations, meant it would never be bettered – the original cast.”  Thanks to Kritzerland’s new reissue, those new to Follies can hear that unassailable cast of veterans, while those who have savored the album in the past might be able to gain some new perspective on it.  We were lucky enough to speak with Kimmel just hours before he made the announcement about his new Follies, and he was generous with insights and fascinating behind-the-scenes tidbits.  Hit the jump for the full interview!

Bruce, we can’t thank you enough for taking the time to chat with us about Follies.  You’ve had great success with remixes of Promises, Promises and Sugar, both from the United Artists catalogue.  In fact, I’d call them both revelatory even for those fans intimately acquainted with the original albums.  How did you first get the idea of working similar magic on Follies?

I started thinking about it almost a year ago, but never thought Capitol would license it, since it’s one of their few show CDs that’s always been in print.  I brought it up during one of our phone calls and my guy there wrote it down, but nothing happened.  About six months ago, I asked again, and again he wrote it down.  About three months ago, he called and said we could license it.  Then the question became, do they have the original session masters?  So it took another couple of months to get the inventory list, which consisted of the stereo two-track album masters, several digital copies of the album master, and thrill of thrills, two boxes of one-inch eight-track edited session masters.  I knew we were good to go at that point.

I can imagine how exciting that moment must have been!  Follies is, after all, one of the most famous cast albums of all time, not to mention one of the most controversial.  Were you intimidated about taking it on?

I am intimidated by very little.  So, no.

Whew!  I figured not, but thought I’d ask…

I’d always thought the original mix was weird – I never thought it was as bad-sounding as most people did, but it was most likely done in one day and sounded like it – ragged and odd, with vocals hard-panned left and right for entire verses of songs, and brass suddenly blaring so loud they drowned out the vocals.  It made the album very difficult to listen to, despite the brilliance of the score and the iconic and definitive performances of the original cast.  The first CD release just used the album master with no help at all.  The second release used that same mix, but added “One More Kiss” to it, which they’d found.  Someone said they thought that the producer of the second version had gone back to the eight-track tapes, but I don’t believe it, since the mix is exactly the same – if he went back then he must have wanted to replicate the original mix perfectly, but why anyone would do that is anyone’s guess!   So, I think they found the eight-track “One More Kiss” (or a rough mix of it) and used the album master again,   because what I heard on the eight-tracks was, while oddly recorded, pretty spectacular and, of course, first generation.

So now you have the tapes.  How do you approach a project like this?  Did you use the original album as a reference in any way, or approach the tapes as you would a newly-recorded album that another producer had handed off to you?

We only used the original mix to make sure we weren’t missing anything; actually, [my engineer] John Adams would listen to the original once, and then put it completely out of mind and do his own completely original new mix.  We then would finesse those until we had it as good as we could get it.  After that, at home, I sometimes went back to the original mix just to hear the difference, and it was always quite a difference.  First of all, not having leading actors hard-panned left and right was so much better.  That used to be fun in the early days of stereo, when producers were really playing with that stuff, but by 1971 no one was really doing that much anymore.  It’s okay for a line or two, I suppose, but when half a song is sung hard-panned to the left, it’s just plain weird.

So true!  Dick Jones, the original record producer, was faced with a most unpleasant task when obligated to edit the show to standard album length; Harold Prince famously rued his decision to go with Capitol Records rather than with Columbia, who might have made the investment in a 2-LP set.  How well do you feel the album holds up once you accept that it’s severely truncated?  Did Jones make the correct decisions in editing it?

Of course, it’s tragic that they didn’t record it in its entirety with that cast.  However, I do think the editing decisions were done well, and I think Jones probably did them in conjunction with Sondheim.  I don’t think he did them on his own, but then again, I don’t know that for sure.  For its time, it was a very long LP, about fifty-five minutes, which was really pushing it in terms of inner groove distortion.  I think the album is a wonderful listening experience now and I hope most people will agree.

I’ve no doubt they will.  It’s remarkable how many of us have a special Follies story or memory; the show has always affected me profoundly (even more so with each passing year) and I know it’s the same for many, or most, who have seen it.  Do you have any Follies stories you can share?

I do and they’re in my liner notes.  I had the album first, and loved the score immediately.  And those pictures from the show just whetted my appetite.  When the show came to L.A., it played at the then-brand new Shubert Theater, their first show, which is funny when you consider that Follies takes place in a theater about to be razed!  My parents got tickets for it.  I don’t even know why, maybe it was a birthday present or something.  We all went, and from the tympani roll into those first two majestic chords and the first light cue, which I remember to this day, I knew I was seeing what would be the best theater experience I would ever have.  And that has remained true to this day.  It was the most perfect production I’ve ever seen – from cast, to direction, to choreography, to lighting, sets, and costumes, to orchestration, to the score and to the book by James Goldman, which has been much maligned over the years and which I found perfect then and now, and I find each attempt to “fix” it unnecessary and lame.  There was nothing to fix.  It told the story it wanted to tell; it wasn’t always pretty, but it was beautifully written.

Indeed, Follies has to be one of the most-talked musicals of all time, particularly in the original production, but also in revivals.  It inspires an almost-unrivalled such passion, positively and negatively, each time it’s staged.  As a writer, director, composer and lyricist yourself, what qualities do you think set Follies apart?

I think it hits very close to the bone for people of a certain age.  My parents hated it with every ounce of their being, and I think that was the reason – too close to home.  But I’ve known people all my life like those characters and I totally “get” them, even with all their foibles and, yes, follies.  But that’s always been the problem – the title has two meanings and a lot of audiences, especially back when it was new, just assumed the literal meaning: that they were going to see an old-fashioned Follies show.  Oh, well.

Thankfully, so much of those qualities come through on the cast album.  It’s always been fascinating to me that, even at a time when cast albums were routinely selling well, producers were forced to record them in one day, whereas many rock and pop albums – especially from the 1960s onward as rock became an “art,” too – were afforded the luxury of lengthy recording periods.  Yet so many wonderful cast albums were still produced despite the restrictions of time.  Do you think the single-day policy resulted in better albums due to the urgency?  Or would albums have been improved with more time spent?

Well, in the last decade or so, certain cast albums have taken two or three days, and you know what?  They’re not any better for it.  When I started doing them, my engineer Vinnie [Cirilli] and I decided we would do them a little differently: in the old days, band and vocalists were all in the same room.  We always did it the pop way:  put as many of the lead vocalists in a booth as we could.  It was amazing how freeing that was for everyone in every way.  The performers knew that if they screwed up a lyric or did a take that wasn’t quite good enough, when we had a good take for the band, they then had the ability to go back in on a band break and plug in the problem parts or even do a complete new take.  Then everyone else saw what we were doing and they started to do it that way.  It was funny.  But I kind of like the one-day thing: very pressured but you have to get it done and everyone knows it and is ready.

You have some wonderful Stephen Sondheim anecdotes in your recent book, Album Produced By…, as well as some wonderful anecdotes about Vinnie, for that matter!  How did your association with Sondheim’s work begin, personally and professionally?

I was the first to issue A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum on CD, back in the Bay Cities days, Bay Cities being my first label.  One day we got a letter with a check in it from Sondheim, saying he’d written the score and would like a copy.  Can you imagine?

That is priceless…

So, I sent him his check back and sent him a few copies of the discs, along with a few others we’d released.  He wrote back and thanked me and said he’d been buying Bay Cities stuff from the beginning.  From that point on, I put him on the promo list and he got everything and with every package sent he’d send a gracious thank you note.  At some point, I decided to do Classical Broadway, classical music by Broadway composers and he was the first person I went to.  He didn’t have anything he wanted used, but that conversation led to talking about doing a new recording of his incidental music for [two of Arthur Laurents’ plays] Invitation to a March and The Enclave.  That wasn’t enough for a whole CD and at some point I asked about songs that had never been recorded – and that ultimately became Unsung Sondheim.

Is Sondheim aware of the new reissue of Follies yet?

Yes, I told him about it as soon as I know it was possible, and he seemed very pleased.  I also ran my notes by him; he liked them, but thought they were too effusive for his tastes, to which I said, “Tough!”  I can’t imagine writing notes about Follies that aren’t effusive.  It’s my favorite musical ever; of course I’m going to be effusive.  He had a couple of suggestions and some grammar and syntax things that I hadn’t caught, so that was all good.

What was the biggest challenge of undertaking a project such as this?

It’s always daunting taking a beloved score or album and having a new go at it.  And believe me, there will be people who say that they liked the original better with all its weirdnesses and flaws because that’s what they know and heard first.  It’s as inevitable as the inevitable Roscoe.  My goal was to make it sound better, plain and simple.  And when I heard the “Prologue/Beautiful Girls” new mix, I was blown away by the clarity and detail and depth.  Just to make sure my mind wasn’t playing tricks, I listened to it again and then to the second CD release and even my engineer said it put that one to shame.  We were hearing orchestration detail we’d never heard before.  When you’re dealing with only eight tracks, you don’t have huge leeway, but you have enough where you can smooth and focus and still bring out certain things that were buried or muffled in the original mix.  In those days, with eight tracks, you had to put all the brass together on one track, all the reeds on another, the drums and bass on another, vocals, etc.  There wasn’t a lot to play with.  So the brass blends and the reed blends were what they were.  But I feel we really were able to work wonders, thanks to my very dedicated engineer, John Adams – he’s not a show music guy, but boy did he love this project and the score.

I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am to hear it! Are you considering future reissues in this vein?  Promises and Sugar were both artistic successes (and I’d hope commercially for you, as well), and I have no doubt Follies will join them!

There’s not that much that’s available to us; the Sony/RCA stuff they would never let me touch.  They just put out all that older stuff as CD-Rs now and on iTunes without much of any remastering and certainly no remixing.  Also, any album before 1965 or so would have been recorded on three-track tapes and there’s really not much you can do with that, although I’d be happy to try on a couple of things.  But I’ll probably now look at other Capitol albums and give them a listen again and see if something might be fun.

Well, we’re looking forward to those future projects, Bruce.  Thanks again, and congratulations on Follies!

The remixed and remastered Follies: Original Broadway Cast Recording is available for pre-order now from Kritzerland. CDs are scheduled to ship the last week of August, but pre-orders from the label most often arrive early! The complete track listing and pre-order link follows.

Follies: The Original Broadway Cast Recording (Capitol SO-761, 1971 – reissued Kritzerland, 2012)

  1. Prologue/Beautiful Girls
  2. Don’t Look at Me
  3. Waiting for the Girls Upstairs
  4. Ah, Paris! / Broadway Baby
  5. The Road You Didn’t Take
  6. In Buddy’s Eyes
  7. Who’s That Woman?
  8. I’m Still Here
  9. Too Many Mornings
  10. The Right Girl
  11. One More Kiss
  12. Could I Leave You?
  13. You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow / Love Will See Us Through
  14. The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me Blues (Buddy’s Blues)
  15. Losing My Mind
  16. The Story of Lucy and Jessie
  17. Live, Laugh, Love / Finale

Written by Joe Marchese

July 12, 2012 at 10:00

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. What great news! I have placed my order. This is a very good day and thanks and appeciation to Mr. Kimmel.

    Earl Kunz

    July 12, 2012 at 12:07

  2. Very much looking forward to this reissue. The Sugar and Promises Promises redos were a revelation. The Follies original issue sounded so strange compared to other Capitol cast recordings of the period that I thought it was compressed because of time constraints. But the CD reissues were no better. It’s my understanding that Dick Jones had some significant equipment problems at the recording session as well (Capitol didn’t have it’s own recording venue in New York.)

    With the fate of EMI uncertain, perhaps they will be more open to letting Mr Kimmel remaster other Capitol cast recordings: most notably, Funny Girl and The Gay Life.

    Stewart Gooderman

    July 12, 2012 at 13:42

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: