However your mileage may vary with Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s twelve-year film project was a sight to behold. It’s the type of feat that can probably only be done once a lifetime—except that Linklater wants to try something like that again. The director is eyeing Stephen Sondheim’s musical Merrily We Roll Along, which takes place over the course of twenty years. You can probably guess where this is going.
That’s right, Linklater will be shooting this film in real time. In a time where Hollywood is utilizing CGI and makeup for digital aging, Linklater wants to play the long game. In case you are unaware of the story of the musical, Merrily We Roll Along follows fictional Broadway composer Franklin Shepard, who abandons his friendships for Hollywood. The character will be portrayed by Blake Jenner, with Jenner joined by Ben Platt (Dear Evan Hansen) and Beanie Feldstein (Lady Bird, Booksmart).
The gimmick with Merrily We Roll Along is the chronology of the story, with the plot moving backwards in time. It’s a gimmick that led the musical to receive lukewarm reviews when it opened in 1981, with some audiences finding the story confusing and hard to follow. With the medium of film, and with the actors aging for like, real for some extra authenticity, perhaps the story will register more on screen.
Those who saw Lady Bird may remember that the musical was a minor plot point, with the high school the characters attended performing the play to similarly mixed reviews; the director of the musical lamented that the audience “didn’t get it.” Adding more to the connection is that Feldstein’s character in Lady Bird played the same role that Feldstein herself will play.
Having seen a production of the show myself, it’s not one that I’m particularly fond of. There’s a lot of fun songs and a positive energy, but it’s not nearly as memorable as Sondheim’s other works. My favorite number from the musical is probably “Franklin Shepard Inc.,” in which Shepard’s writing partner chews him out during a television interview. You can see a recent performance of the number from Vanessa Williams, Jonathan Groff, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson at the 2017 Sondheim on Sondheim show below.
I’ve always enjoyed Linklater’s approach to his films, even for the ones that I don’t particularly love. I am however enamored with the Before trilogy with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, and part of what makes that trilogy so powerful is the length of time in between each installment. With the films shot and set nine years apart each, all represent a different stage of the protagonists’ relationship and are very much products of their respective decades.
It’ll be fascinating to see how this project plays out—making such a long-term project comes with a number of risks. Film technology and trends changes by the year, so the entire landscape of Hollywood will most certainly be completely different even before we reach the release date. It’s also a sign of confidence from Linklater that we’ll have any semblance of civilization by the time 2039 or 2040 rolls by. All power to you, man.