August 28, 2021 12:22 PM   Subscribe

Stephen Sondheim was riding pretty high in 1971. His show Company was a year into its strong Broadway run when he opened a second show on Broadway, the ambitious Follies. Directed by Hal Prince and Michael Bennett, the show ran for over 500 performances, won 7 Tony awards, introduced several new standards to the American Songbook, and ultimately closed as a financial failure. Here is a good quality audience recording of the 2011 Kennedy Center revival [2h10m], starring Bernadette Peters, Elaine Page, and Linda Lavin.

We don't have an official filming of the 1971 production, but here is a sort of a reproduction involving stills and film elements [1h36m]. It's fairly complete and is surprisingly watchable. You can continue to engage with the original cast with this 1971 David Frost interview with several cast members [1h12m]. Several of the actors and production crew gathered for a pandemic panel earlier this year for Follies At 50 [2h20m]

There was a concert performance and recording made in 1985 with a mammoth cast. The documentary Follies In Concert [1h26m] shows the rehearsals and some performances from that night.

Of interest might be a collection of Sondheim's demo recordings for the show [45m].

Michael Bennett's involvement with co-directing and choreographing Follies led one theater scholar to examine Follies and A Chorus Line and their roles in 1970s Broadway in The Sondheim Influence: Follies, A Chorus Line, and The Concept Musical [1h5m].

The 2011 Kennedy Center production also involved a Kennedy Center "Theater Look-In" roundtable [1h] with the cast.

Finally, the director of the massively successful 2017 London production, Dominick Cooke, has plans to make a movie version of Follies.
posted by hippybear (8 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Follies is one of the Sondheim shows I know the least, so I'm really looking forward to digging into these!

(I do love Tim Curry's version of "Losing My Mind".)

(Is the demo recordings link supposed to be ?)

Thank you so much for yet another fantastic Sondheim post, hippybear! This is just wonderful.
posted by kristi at 1:04 PM on August 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

If you love Follies, you must read Everything was Possible. From the description on "In 1971, college student Ted Chapin found himself front row center as a production assistant at the creation of one of the greatest Broadway musicals, Follies. Needing college credit to graduate on time, he kept a journal of everything he saw and heard and thus was able to document in unprecedented detail how a musical is actually created." This includes his account of transcribing Sondheim's handwritten lyrics for a song that would replace a novelty number sung by Yvonne deCarlo, thus becoming the first person to experience "I'm Still Here." Then 20 years old, Chapin went on to become president of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization.
posted by How the runs scored at 1:46 PM on August 28, 2021 [3 favorites]

The filmed version of the 2019 production by the National Theatre (UK) is going to be in theaters on Sept. 12. Imelda Staunton is Sally. Here's the official trailer.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:11 PM on August 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

The filmed version of the 2019 production by the National Theatre (UK) is going to be in theaters on Sept. 12.

If only sitting in a room with a bunch of strangers for 2 hours didn't feel like an unwise choice during these times...
posted by hippybear at 2:54 PM on August 28, 2021

I was going to post exactly what swah did, and my personal response to the NTLive email was exactly hippybear's
posted by DebetEsse at 3:04 PM on August 28, 2021

Aw, I saw that production for real at the National Theatre back in the Before Times, and it was really good. I particularly remember Tracie Bennett's I'm Still Here being fantastically powerful.
posted by automatronic at 3:36 PM on August 28, 2021

I saw the NT production twice and it was superb - it really used the Olivier's sheer size to tremendous effect (it's very curiously dimensioned - I've been there in the seats at the side, and it's seemed gigantic. I went to see Under Milk Wood there a few months ago, and where we were seated was on what would normally be the stage, and from that position the room actually seemed quite intimate).

Things that struck me (not specific to that production) -

When I realised the relationship between the characters and the silent figures that were following them around, I was quite overcome - it was such a powerful image.

Am I right in thinking that the show reflects actual structure of a Follies show (such as that would wind up being filmed by Busby Berkeley), with the story first and a bunch of musical numbers at the end?

Oddly, I knew many of the songs primarily from the cassette of Side By Side By Sondheim that we used to play in the car all the time when I was a child. I'd spun the handful of songs from there into some conception of what the show was like (and I'd got it completely wrong), so the real thing was a revelation.

I also saw the (equally superb) re-envisioning of Company twice, around the same time. We don't tend to go and see musicals, but there's something different about Sondheim's work, despite his having defined how people write musicals over the last few decades.
posted by Grangousier at 4:34 PM on August 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

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