When news first hit that Richard Linklater would apply the extended shooting schedule first utilized on his Oscar winner “Boyhood” towards an adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along,” some film fans wondered if they’d even be around to see the final film. Linklater enlisted indie darling Beanie Feldstein and Tony winner Ben Platt for the ambitious project, which will film over the course of 20 years. Now starring in Ryan Murphy’s “The Politician” on Netflix, Platt revealed that the cast has already shot the first sequence of the film, adding that Linklater’s ideal shooting schedule will hew as closely as possible to the timeline laid out in the original show.
“I really admire ‘Boyhood,’ and I thought when he came to me with the project that it was such a brilliant marriage of that concept with this material. I feel like people are hearing ’20-year musical’ and ‘Richard Linklater,’ and that’s obviously very exciting,” Platt said during a recent interview with IndieWire. “But what a lot of people who aren’t in the musical theater community don’t know is how perfectly matched that is to this particular piece, and how it solves the age-old issues the piece has always had.”
Written in 1981 by Sondheim with a book by his “Company” collaborator George Furth, “Merrily We Roll Along” follows a trio of friends and show business collaborators throughout the 20-year ups and downs of their careers. The original Broadway production was a notorious flop, closing after only 16 performances and effectively ending the longstanding partnership between Sondheim and powerhouse producer Hal Prince. Original cast member Lonnie Price’s 2016 documentary “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened” is an excellent dive into the storied production.
One of the main issues with the original production, and its subsequent revivals, is that aging the young actors up throughout the years has always come off as a bit silly.
“This is a piece of Sondheim’s that has always had such incredible components, and so many things in it that are is really special. There are moments in the score and conceptually, this whole idea of friendship and people becoming jaded over time, there’s always been so many brilliant pieces, but it’s never quite entirely clicked,” said Platt. “It really has this opportunity to transcend — if it all comes together — to watch these people age backwards and get back to their naive ideological selves.”
According to Platt, the shooting schedule is already roughly sketched out, with Linklater planning to follow the basic timeline in the original script, which stretches from 1957 to 1976. They are treating each sequence as a short film.
“We did the first sequence this summer, and the idea is to follow the schematic of the show literally, in the sense that if there’s a scene that takes place in ‘57 and one in ‘61, we’ll wait four years and shoot the next one,” the actor explained. “So we’re corresponding with the map of the show. Other than that, it’s sort of like — ‘let’s get together and make a short film’ — and then disperse, and do that nine times.”
As for detractors who think the idea of waiting twenty years for a film is a step too far, Platt has an answer for them.
“It’s too brilliant of a solution not give it a try,” he said. “Obviously it’s a lot to bite off and we’re all kinda taking a leap of faith, in that a million different things could happen that could make this not come to fruition, but everyone involved is really passionate enough to give it a try.”