Same bold experiment, but this time backwards.
Five years ago, writer/director Richard Linkater stunned the film world with Boyhood, a coming of age story that he had quietly been filmming over a 12-year-span off-and-on in-between other movies. Tracking the life of a boy from grade school to graduation as he becomes a man, the unprecedented project — which garnered Linklater his first Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and Best Director — filmed each phase of life in sequential order, during each year as young actor Ellar Coltrane grew up.
Now, Linklater wants to not only tackle the same sort of ambition but raise the bar and exceed it with his latest never-been-done-before venture: a filmed-in-real-time musical.
And not just any musical, but one by the Shakespeare of musical theatre: Stephen Sondheim. It’s his 1981 show Merrily We Roll Along, one that was a dud in its day (closing after only 16 performances) but has since become deeply admired and beloved by many, and has played to much longer-running revivals.
The story, about the career of a former Broadway producer who has gone on to big success in the movies, is told over a twenty year span in reverse order, starting at his Hollywood height and then going backwards to trace his steps to, by show’s end, where he started.
The news, first reported by Collider, is the best kind of blindside, the kind of project that you’d never imagine happening or even consider possible (a Linklater musical?!), let alone on this scale.
The collaboration and commitment alone is an amazing gift, but then it becomes even more so when you consider the two leads: Tony winner Ben Platt (Dear Evan Hansen) and Beanie Feldstein (Lady Bird), a rising film star with her own Broadway background.
Platt plays Franklin Shepard, the producer, and Feldstein plays a theater critic who also happens to be Shepard’s best friend. Making the casting even more perfect: Platt and Feldstein have been besties since high school.
Given that the narrative of Merrily We Roll Along is told backwards (with the musical ending when the characters are in their 20s), this adaptation will be filmed in reverse chronological order.
Shooting will begin either this year or next…which means all parties involved should likely reserve Oscar dates on their calendars for February of 2040.