Tuesday, October 12, 2010

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Casting Coup Tuesdays: Follies!

Years ago, I heard Aaron Sorkin was writing a screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's Follies, to be directed by Sam Mendes. As I said, years ago. At the time, I'd never heard of the show. One of my friends called it the one with old people, so I was intrigued: as a fan of The Golden Girls, I felt that older was better,  and all too rare in entertainment. And yet, somehow...I never got around to knowing it. No CD, no libretto, nothing. I just didn't look for it.

It never left my mind, though. When I immersed myself once more in musical theatre during the summer, it went to the top of my list of things I needed to catch up on. Fortunately, my school's library had both the soundtrack and the libretto, so I was able to read along to the CD.

I loved it. The music was glorious, even if the book was bizarre. An old theatre is being torn down, and as it was once the site of the Weissman Follies, Weissman himself holds a farewell party for all the ex-showpeople. Chief among them are two couples, the Stones and the Plummers, filled with thirty years of regret and unrequited love. Throughout the night, while other stage vets reminisce with a song from the old days, the two couples dance, drink, fight, and carry on, all culminating in a recreation of a Follies show called Loveland. It's all very strange but beautiful. And since they already announced a movie version in the works, it didn't take much for me to think of one of my own...

Now, some things to know before you delve into this. I know everyone here is about ten years older than the characters in the play, but no one in the correct age range seemed right for these parts. Also, my source for songs and plot is the original libretto written by James Goldman and Stephen Sondheim. I understand that different versions have different songs or a different order, but I don't know those versions. Finally, because this is a show about the theatre, my usual awards rundowns on the actors includes Broadway honors; this is a one-time deal.

With that out of the way....

Who is He: One of the old standbys of the Follies. Everybody knows him, everybody's worked with him. Even at his advanced age, he still has a beautiful voice.

Song: Beautiful Girls (2:25)

My Choice: Academy Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actor (Cabaret), Tony Award Winner Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Cabaret, Chicago), Drama Desk Nominee for Best Actor in a Musical (Goodtime Charley, The Grand Tour, Cabaret)
Joel Grey (Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, The Fantasticks)
At seventy-eight, he's two years shy of the character's age. And he is an old standby. More of a theatre star than a film one, but if you're going to start things out right, it's best to get an Oscar Winner. That's what I say. The man's still got it, too.

Who is He: Husband of Stella Deems. They had a radio show after the Follies, but after an on-air outburst from Max, they quit and opened a store in Miami.

My Choice: Tony Award/Drama Desk Winner for Best Featured Actor in a Musical (The Producers)
Gary Beach (The Producers)
I can see him playing well opposite my Stella. He's a pleasure to watch, and I see him playing a pleasant fellow who tells it like it is. The only thing wrong with this casting is the lack of songs for Max. So there.

Who is She: Max's wife, who leads the other ladies in an energetic mirror dance.

Song: Who's That Woman

My Choice: Tony Award/Drama Desk Winner for Best Actress in a Musical (Evita, Gypsy), Drama Desk Winner for Best Actress in a Musical (Anything Goes)

Patti LuPone (Driving Miss Daisy, State and Main)
Stella's the youngest of the show-stoppers, so it's only right that we get that great not-old-yet grande dame of the stage, Patti LuPone! Her voice is just perfect for the song, too, and she'd sell it's comic moments.

Who is She: Fabulous French chanteuse who now has a perfume for men...called "Solange", of course.

Song: Ah, Paris! (2:40)

My Choice: Tony Award/Drama Desk Winner for Best Actress in a Musical (The Rink, Kiss of the Spider Woman)

Chita Rivera (Sweet Charity, Chicago)
Totally should've played Liliane la Fleur, especially since they didn't even give Judi a chance to be un-Dench'd. Here, Chita gets to be fun and French once more, with those rrrrolling r's and sexy septuagarianty. Brief numbers need solid performers, and Chita is Solid with a capital S.

Who is She: German singer once known for her soprano. She was so popular, even Hungarian composer Franz Lehar wrote a song for her! She has my favorite number of the non-leads.

Song: One More Kiss

My Choice: Tony Award Winner for Best Featured Actress in a Musical (The Music Man) and Drama Desk Winner for Best One Person Show (Barbara Cook: A Concert for Theatre)

Barbara Cook (Thumbelina, TV's Hansel and Gretel)
Broadway star known for her lovely soprano. She can add a real sadness to this song; her "Losing My Mind" above is effective enough, isn't it?

Who is She: Five-time widow. Direct and funny, she also gets a signature tune of her own.

Song: Broadway Baby

My Choice: Tony Award Nominee for Best Actress in a Musical (Sail Away, Company), Best Actress in a Play (A Delicate Balance) and Best Featured Actress in a Play (Bus Stop), Drama Desk Winner for Best Featured Actress in a Play (A Delicate Balance), Best Solo Performance and Best Book of a Musical (Elaine Stritch at Liberty)

Elaine Stritch (September, Krippendorf's Tribe)
I mean, hello? Elaine Stritch is Broadway. It'd be nuts to do Follies without her.

Who Are They: Emily and Theodore Whitman are an elderly couple that had a duo act in the Follies. Theirs is a sweet, treacly little tune, and they're a sweet little couple.

Song: Listen to the Rain on the Roof (1:05)

My Choice: She is a Tony Award Winner for Best Featured Actress in a Play (The Good Doctor, The Heiress) and Drama Desk Nominee for Best Featured Actress in a Play (Equus)
He is a Tony Award Winner for Best Actor in a Musical (La Cage aux Folles) and Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Sunset Boulevard) and a Drama Desk Winner for Best Actor in a Musical (La Cage aux Folles)
Frances Sternhagen (Misery, The Mist) & George Hearn (The Devil's Own, Barney's Great Adventure)
It'd be fun to see these two theatre stalwarts play off each other. It'd be short and sweet, but completely worth it. You'd get a sense of how long the Follies lasted and the talent it had.

Who is He: Why, he's the Weissman in Weissman's Follies, a cynical skirt-chaser who gets the gang back together for one last celebration of himself.

My Choice: Tony Award Winner for Best Actor in a Musical (The Rothschilds)
Hal Linden (Deathquake, Out to Sea)
Like Weissman, Linden is still strikingly handsome and remarkably spry at 79 years old. He has the sophistication required of the role, and he can do accents pretty well, too. This is a guy he probably knows all too well, too, having done theatre most of his life.

Who is She: Star of the silver screen! She is a failed Follies girl; her one number was cut because it got too many laughs despite being a sad song. Carlotta "is the kind of woman who not only has seen everything but has liked the look of it". Still sexy thirty years later.

Songs: Who's That Woman, I'm Still Here

My Choice: Academy Award/BAFTA Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Ghost), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress in a Drama (The Color Purple), Tony Award/Drama Desk Winner for Best Musical (Thoroughly Modern Millie), Drama Desk Winner for Best One Person Show (Whoopi Goldberg)

(start 6:31)
Whoopi Goldberg (The Long Walk Home, Sister Act)
Carlotta needed to be sexy, funny, a little sad, and a STAR. And for this to work in a film, I wanted someone respected by fans of both the stage and screen. I flirted with the idea of Cher, or Bernadette, or Bette, but something didn't seem right. If Cher or Bette came along, it would be the Cher/Bette show; Bernadette, meanwhile, has been long forgotten by the casual filmgoer (not that this would be a movie for them anyway). No, I needed someone who was both an ensemble player and a legend. So I looked up the list of EGOT Winners, saw Whoopi's name right above Barbra and Liza and thought, "THAT'S IT!" I would kill to hear her sing "I'm Still Here". From Ted Danson to Frank Langella, Oscar to Razzie, comedienne to talk-show host, she's been through it all. And she's still here.

Who is He: A traveling salesman. He wasn't going to come, but he follows Sally when she catches a plane back to New York. Though he adores her, he's disappointed with their lives together, knowing that he's her silver medal. Buddy is also having an unhappy affair with a gal he met on the road, Margie.

Songs: Waiting for the Girls Upstairs, The Right Girl, Buddy's Blues

My Choice: Academy Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor/BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actor (A Fish Called Wanda), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy (Soapdish, Dave, In & Out, De-Lovely), SAG Award Nominee for Best Actor (Life as a House), Tony Award/Drama Desk Winner for Best Actor in a Musical (The Pirates of Penzance) and Best Featured Actor in a Musical (On the Twentieth Century), Drama Desk Winner for Best Actor in a Play (Henry IV)

Kevin Kline (Sophie's Choice, A Prairie Home Companion)
I do think Kline and my choice for Ben could trade parts and still do a 100% effective job. I think I'd buy Kline's "The Right Girl" more, though. He's very effective at playing guilt. Man, I can't wait for that new Lawrence Kasdan film. I love Kevin Kline.

Who is She: Former Follies showgirl, she was best friends with Phyllis. She also carried on an affair with Ben in the past. Now married to Buddy, Sally still believes she could have a future with her first love. In and out of mental clinics and alcoholic rehab centers, Sally is unhappy, choosing to live in a memory instead of the present. Gets the best overall solo, "Losing My Mind".

Songs: Don't Look at Me, Waiting for the Girls Upstairs, In Buddy's Eyes, Who's That Woman, Too Many Mornings, Losing My Mind

My Choice: Academy Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Cactus Flower), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actress (There's a Girl in My Soup, Cactus Flower)

Goldie Hawn (The First Wives Club, Everyone Says I Love You)
Still beautiful and girlish. If you've seen Everyone Says I Love You, then you know Hawn can sell the hell out of a sad song without overplaying it. I wish she'd been nominated that year.

Who is He: A successful author who roomed with Buddy when they were younger. He dated Phyllis, but when she wouldn't put out, he spent his nights with Sally. Benjamin is a bit self-absorbed, and throughout the night he considers running off with Sally, fights with wife Phyllis, and tries to bed Carlotta. He wonders what might have been, more in love with Young Sally than with Now Sally.

Songs: Don't Look at Me, Waiting for the Girls Upstairs, The Road You Didn't Take, Too Many Mornings, Live, Laugh, Love

My Choice: Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy (Pennies from Heaven, All of Me, Roxanne, Parenthood, Father of the Bride: Part II), WGA Award Winner for Best Adapted Screenplay (Roxanne)

Steve Martin (The Jerk, It's Complicated)
Martin's a great singer, first off. Second, he's a phenomenal actor, whether he's playing an asshole, a nice guy, or someone in between. The man's incredible. It's a juicy role, this, and Martin has proven that when given a challenge, he meets it head-on. Handsome and sophisticated, he seems like he could be an author who dines with members of the U.N. He'd be the man.

Who is She: Formerly a shy showgirl, now a bitter housewife. Always biting and sarcastic, her marriage to Ben is a cold one, and she regrets marrying the only man she's slept with. Attractive and high-class, Phyllis's class is the result of hard work. She's perhaps the most perceptive of the group.

Songs: Waiting for the Girls Upstairs, Who's That Woman, Could I Leave You, The Story of Lucie and Jessie

My Choice: Academy Award Nominee for Best Actress (Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liaisons) and Best Supporting Actress (The World According to Garp, The Big Chill, The Natural), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actress (Dangerous Liaisons), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actress in a Drama or Musical/Comedy (Fatal Attraction, Maxie, 101 Dalmatians), Tony Award/Drama Desk Winner for Best Actress in a Musical (Sunset Boulevard), Tony Award Winner for Best Actress in a Play (The Real Thing, Death and the Maiden)

Glenn Close (Air Force One, Mars Attacks!)
She's got that high-class look, the singing chops, the stage experience, the wit, the pathos: she's got it all. Plus she'd get to share the screen with Kevin Kline once more, and that's always a plus. She'd nail the triumphant bitterness of "Could I Leave You" and the bitter wit of "The Story of Lucie and Jessie". It's a Glenn Close role, for Heaven's sake!


Unknown said...

It's Sondheim... don't they all have old people?

TomS said...

Walter, I'm glad you resurrected this classic. I have not seen it but am familiar with the music. It was a huge success, and Tony-winner too, I think.

What an intriguing cast! By the way, did you see Shirley MacLaine sing "I'm Still Here" in "Postcards from the Edge"? She might be a worthy addition to your cast somewhere (am I sounding like an agent?)

One more thing... I do miss the appearance of older actors/actresses in serious roles on stage/screen. Seems like mature performers can't get much work unlsess they become parodies of themselves... I think there's a place for a modern day version of something like, say, "Harry and Tonto"...

Great post, Walter. Your are on your way to becoming an extraordinary Casting Director.

Andrew K. said...

Ugh, Sondheim! I love the man (@ Caleb, yeah all Sondheim does have old people - but never in leading roles.)

I love the inclusion of Whoopi and Glenn the most (just imagine Glenn singing "Could I Leave You"), I'm not sold on Steve Martin, but I don't have any other options. Great work.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Caleb: See Andrew's comment.

TomS: Just saw Postcards recently, actually! I actually thought about where to put MacLaine, but she may be a little too old for Carlotta, the only role I could see for her. Unless she were playing a female Weissman....Your note about older actiors having to become parodies reminds me of Carlotta's song, actually: "First you're another sloe-eyed vamp/Then someone's mother, then you're camp!" Times, they aren't a-changin'.

Andrew: As soon as I heard that song, all I could think was GLENN.