Produced by Tommy Krasker and Philip Chaffin, the two-disc set not only preserves the musical's myriad standards, but also extended segments of the show's dialogue. The result is an album that, more so than any of the other existing recordings, allows listeners to re-experience the heartbreaking collision of past and present that's at the core of the piece.
It's little surprise that hearing the long-past, often youthfully optimistic exchanges between the young incarnations of the four central characters, Ben, Buddy, Phyllis, and Sally (played by Nick Verina, Christian Delcroix, Kirsten Scott, and Lora Lee Gayer, respectively) can cause a slight shudder, particularly when placed alongside the more barbed and embittered dialogue exchanged between the characters' older incarnations (played by Ron Raines, Danny Burstein, Jan Maxwell and Bernadette Peters, respectively).
But what could take some listeners by surprise is the ways in which the songs are used as underscoring during the show, and the reunion of Weismann Follies showgirls. For instance, the exceedingly chipper song "Loveland" underscores the elder Phyllis' lament about what her life has become, like a plaintive dirge, and "Who's That Woman?" wafts almost bitchily just underneath a brewing catfight between Phyllis and Sally.
All of the care that has been taken in preserving these details would be for nothing were it not for the superlative performances at the show's center. Peters creates a portrait of Sally that simply vibrates with vulnerability, not only in Sally's big number, "Losing My Mind," but also in "Buddy's Eyes," where she marvelously captures the character's self-delusion.
Meanwhile, Maxwell's incendiary "Could I Leave You?" proves to be as electrifying on disc as it does in the theater. As their spouses, Burstein makes Buddy's aw-shucks goodness and genial sarcasm simultaneously endearing and pitiable while Raines admirably and subtly reveals the cracks within Ben's cool-as-a cucumber façade.
Alongside the principals are the fine performances from Elaine Paige, who dazzles with the chestnut "I'm Still Here," as well as Terri White, Mary Beth Peil and Jayne Houdyshell, who each put their own stamp on their respective numbers: "Who's That Woman?," "Ah, Paris!," and "Broadway Baby."
The set comes encased in a handsome slipcover with a generously illustrated full-color booklet that contains both the dialogue and lyrics, along with notes from journalist Patrick Pacheco and album co-producer Krasker. It's a glorious package and recording that will hold a special place in music theater lovers' collections for years to come.