Fans of composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim will be “losing their minds” over the latest news from the theatre icon: at long last, a film is being made of his classic 1971 Broadway musical, “Follies.”
At the helm of the new movie will be Dominic Cooke, a four-time Olivier Award-winning and BAFTA nominated theatre, TV and film director and writer. The British filmmaker is known for the quiet drama, “On Chesil Beach,” but he also directed an acclaimed London revival of “Follies” for the National Theatre in 2017. A videotaped performance of that production was screened in film theaters across the UK and US, and it also returned to the West End for an encore run earlier this year.
The show, which includes musical theatre standards such as “Broadway Baby,” “Losing My Mind,” and I’m Still Here,” was written by Sondheim in collaboration with the late James Goldman, who penned the libretto. Centered on former performers of a Ziegfeld-style musical revue of the thirties and forties, it takes place on the night of a reunion party held in the soon-to-be-demolished theatre in which they had their heyday, as they reflect on – and attempt to come to terms with – the choices they have made about their lives and careers in the decades since. In the course of the action, the characters perform songs and dance numbers paying tribute to the American musical theatre of their younger years.
The original 1971 production has the reputation for being a flop, despite being nominated for eleven Tony Awards and winning seven; factually, the show was widely praised by critics and ran for 522 performances, but as the second-most expensive Broadway production ever mounted at that time, it ultimately lost its entire investment. The musical has since had several major revivals, including the recent National Theatre production and a Tony-winning 2011 remount starring Bernadette Peters.
Several attempts have been made in the past to develop a film version, most recently in 2015 when director Rob Marshall was reported to be behind the camera for an adaptation starring Meryl Streep. Observers have often cited the show’s dark anti-nostalgia and its cast of middle-aged or older characters as reasons for the failure of these earlier efforts to reach fruition in an industry concerned with the bottom line.
“Over the years, there have been many attempts to bring Follies to the screen, but not until Dominic Cooke’s brilliant production at the National Theatre of Great Britain did it seem like it could be a real movie. I’m more than delighted, I’m thrilled, that it’s finally going to happen,” Sondheim said in a statement.
No cast or release date have yet been announced for the new film version, which will be produced by David Heyman, Rose Allison, and Rose Garnett.