When I spoke to Bill Condon last April prior to the DVD release of Dreamgirls, I asked the filmmaker if there were any other "cult" musicals he’d like to direct or, failing that, see on the big screen. His immediate reply: "I hope Follies gets made. You hear some rumors that it might get made. For a moment, I was dancing with it, but I had a take on it that the bookwriter’s widow disagreed with. I hope someone does Follies, because that’s a great show that could be reinvented for the screen."
Though I’m disappointed we’ll never get to see Condon’s take on the material, I think I can handle Aaron Sorkin adapting James Goldman’s book for Stephen Sondheim’s magnificent 1971 musical. Then again, I’ve never seen it performed in its entirety, so anything short of an Adam Shankman/Marc Lawrence collaboration would be acceptable.
In other words, I’m more than okay with director Sam Mendes applying his theatrical expertise to this proposed big screen transfer (the above-linked New York Times story fails to mention a producer or a studio). I haven’t been terribly impressed with Mendes’s film work to date (Conrad Hall’s gorgeous cinematography for American Beauty and Road to Perdition notwithstanding), but I am a huge fan of his stage work (in particular, his brilliant revival of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing). And since he’s already won an Olivier Award for staging Sondheim’s Company, I’d say he’s perfectly suited to this material.
The musical, about a group of veteran vaudevillians who reunite in a legendary Broadway theater scheduled for demolition, won’t be an easy sell outside of the theater community; though a number of the songs are fairly well known (most notably "I’m Still Here", which was warbled by Shirley MacLaine in Mike Nichols’s Postcards from the Edge), none of them are instantly recognizable standards. They are, however, ripe for discovery. And if Tim Burton’s very good Sweeney Todd catches on with the mainstream (as I think it will), I have every confidence that the cult of Follies will grow.