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THE BEST CONCERT OF THE ‘80S By Peter Filichia

Ever hear of PopDaze?

The website, we’re told, is “the place to learn, interact, and relive your youth with other fans, as you explore and play with the music, entertainment, and pop culture of the second half of the 20th Century.”

So, PopDaze asked the question, “What was your favorite concert in the 1980s?”

Some respondents mentioned Def Leppard, Duran Duran, Guns N’ Roses. Others chose The Police, The Cars and R.E.M.

My answer cited what I experienced in Avery Fisher Hall on September 6, 1985.


The moment this event was announced, I sent in my $100 mail order for an orchestra seat. In those days, this was an astronomical price; only NICHOLAS NICKLEBY had charged as much, and that show was an all-day affair.

Today, that $100 would equal $283 and change. Although that isn’t Fun Size Candy money, as time goes by and ticket prices go higher than Betty Buckley ever did in CATS, it now seems like a steal.

Not as much of a steal, of course, as the original 1971 production, for which $2 seats were available. Yes, you’d be in the last rows of the mezzanine, but the commodious Winter Garden only has nine rows there. For what esteemed musical theater historian Ethan Mordden dubbed “arguably the greatest of all musicals,” FOLLIES was the best buy since the Louisiana Purchase.

We’ll never know how many were discouraged by FOLLIES IN CONCERT’s steep ticket price, but Avery Fisher was nevertheless jam-packed for the initial performance. That was the one I requested, for I was incapable of waiting any longer than necessary.

Many musical theater enthusiasts who missed FOLLIES’ three-week Boston tryout or its 12 Broadway previews and 522 performances would, for the first time, hear songs and lyrics that had been amputated from the notoriously truncated original cast album.

And what a cast would do them! Three of the four principals had already won Tonys: Barbara Cook (THE MUSIC MAN), who’d play Sally to the Buddy of Mandy Patinkin (EVITA). George Hearn (LA CAGE AUX FOLLES) would portray Ben to Lee Remick’s Phyllis. All of them in James Goldman’s book reiterated Katharine Hepburn’s famous statement that “Marriage isn’t a word – it’s a sentence.”

More Tony winners would be on hand to play those erstwhile entertainers in Dimitri Weismann’s Follies: Liliane Montevecchi (NINE) would be Solange; Phyllis Newman (SUBWAYS ARE FOR SLEEPING), Stella Deems; Betty Comden and Adolph Green (six Tonys each) would play vaudevillians Emily and Theodore Whitman.

They delivered the first of three numbers that had been totally missing from the first recording:

“Rain on The Roof” reminded us that Comden and Green had started out as performers, for they had no problem with the lickety-split novelty number.

“One More Kiss” was the Sigmund Romberg pastiche which Justine Johnson and Victoria Mallory originally sang. Kenneth Kantor, who performed with Johnson in ME AND MY GIRL, once brought to the theater his long-playing record of FOLLIES for her to sign. “She flatly refused,” he said, “because she recorded her song, but it wasn’t included on the album.” Not until the CD was released in 1992 was it added, long after ME AND MY GIRL had closed.

The omission of “Loveland” was another major crime. It’s an important component because it brought the two couples into a Ziegfeldian performance mode.

The songs that the original cast album only partly offered would be played in full. Finally, we would hear “Beautiful Girls” with those worth-their-weight-in-platinum extra lyrics: “Faced with these Loreleis, what man can moralize?”

“I’m Still Here” was originally missing the section that runs the gamut from Gandhi to Brenda Frazier. Granted, many had heard it through the 1973 concert SONDHEIM: A MUSICAL TRIBUTE; there, Nancy Walker certainly had done it superbly. Still, I remember the young man sitting in front of me who, when Carol Burnett (yes, THAT Carol Burnett) unleashed the “new” lyrics, quickly snapped his head toward his companion in shock and delight; it revealed that not even everyone in this crowd had heard Walker’s rendition.

Considering that Sondheim wrote The Greatest Opening Number of the Post-War Era and The Greatest Song Ever Written out of Town, justice was finally served.

“You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow,” “Love Will See Us Through,” “The Story of Lucy and Jessie” “Live, Laugh, Love” and “Ah, Paree!” weren’t fully recorded, either. Believe it or not, even beloved “Broadway Baby” was diminished. Perhaps because Ethel Shutta’s rendition on the original cast album is exuberant, the dourer Elaine Stritch opted for a more leisurely, world-weary take.

(In Eddie Shapiro’s book A Wonderful Guy, Howard McGillin, who played the concert’s Young Ben, recalled that after Stritch finished, he ran up to her and said, “Elaine, that was unbelievable!”

“And,” he reported, “she looked at me and said, ‘Who are you?’”) Let’s not forget that “Who’s That Woman?” – The Greatest Production Number of the Post-War Era in which the showgirls of 30 years ago replicate what they once did eight times a week – received an additional 112 heavenly seconds of dance music.

Perhaps that night “Who’s That Woman” didn’t get 112 seconds of applause, but the tally couldn’t have been much less. There was much analogous hand-clapping all night long. Following the curtain calls, not only was I still applauding as if Tinkerbelle’s life depended on it, but when Sondheim matter-of-factly sauntered onto the stage,

I also heard an unprecedented sound from the bottom (and top) of my soul burst out of me.

Sondheim modestly gave us that mild-mannered hands-forward gesture that says, “It’s okay, stop.” We disobeyed for many, many seconds.

Frank Rich, then the New York Times chief theater critic, later wrote that the evening was “thrilling – and possibly historic.”


Thanks to Thomas Z. Shepard, the record producer who’d already won six Grammys for his previous cast albums, we’d hear them FOLLIES IN CONCERT that night, but any time we’d care to.

Shepard’s recording was culled from both performances, for you don’t hear what Patinkin endured on opening night. He went up on his lyrics in “Buddy’s Blues.”

(Well, give the guy a break; he wasn’t only playing Buddy, but also Sally and Margie – the women in his life.)

Do the math: The original cast album at that time weighed in at 56:07; FOLLIES IN CONCERT amassed 85:41. From then on, the original cast album became FOLLIES LITE – and no one should make light of FOLLIES.

The rich and extensive score and performances couldn’t be accommodated on one CD, yet it didn’t have enough to fill two. Some producers would have shaved it to one disc, or they would have left much of the second blank. (A two-disc recording of THE CRADLE WILL ROCK offers one disc with all of 12 minutes on it.)

Shepard, though, brought to that second disc 43.5 minutes of Sondheim’s score for the 1974 Alain Renais-directed French film STAVISKY.

If that sounds irrelevant to FOLLIES, not quite. “Auto Show” offers the original melody of “Bring on the Girls,” which would be replaced by “Beautiful Girls.”

“Operetta” was first “The World’s Full of Girls” and “The World’s Full of Boys” that Ben and Phyllis respectively sang.

“Salon at the Claridge #2” was originally “Who Could Be Blue?”, a duet for Young Ben and Young Phyllis.

All four, of course, deny us Sondheim’s lyrics, but there is that lush orchestra and orchestration that movies give their music.

FOLLIES IN CONCERT also sounded lush, for Shepard arranged for no less than the New York Philharmonic Orchestra to provide the music. The recording would get Shepard his seventh cast album Grammy.

And, at the risk of being musically jingoistic, may I point out that all seven are available at Masterworks Broadway?

Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on His new book – BRAINTEASERS FOR BROADWAY GENIUSES – is now available on Amazon and at The Drama Book Shop.