header

Creation of Follies

Stephen Sondheim and the Creation of Follies

Follies creator, Stephen Sondheim, grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. His parents were involved in dress-making and design, and took Sondheim to his first musical theatre production aged nine.

Aged ten, Sondheim's father abandoned him and his mother. After their divorce, and a move to a farm in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Sondheim's interest in musical performance blossomed. Sondheim wrote his first musical at his new school in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. By George was an account of the comings and goings of his classmates and proved very popular among his peers.

Sondheim Meets Oscar Hammerstein II

Bucks County was home to James Hammerstein, also ten years old. Stephen and James became firm friends, and it was at this time he met James' father, Oscar Hammerstein II, who became a surrogate father to him. Young Sondheim's love for musical theatre developed under the tutelage of Hammerstein, who was working on his new musical, South Pacific. He had a look at Sondheim's By George school musical production and remarked that it was awful. Hammerstein offered to show him how to improve it. Sondheim later said he learned more about musical theatre that afternoon than most people learn in a lifetime.

Lady Fortune Shines on Follies Creator

From that time onwards, Sondheim, seemed destined for a Broadway musical career of some kind. He was interested in musical composition and construction, and is famous for developing intricate polyphonic harmonies. He was asked to write musical scores for musical theatre stories that went on to be big Broadway hits, including West Side Story. Sondheim admired how West Side Story was themed around a novel by Arthur Laurent. This inspired Sondheim to ask novelist James Goldman to write the Follies story, once he'd decided to create a musical theatre production from scratch.

Follies, is a story based around an invented revue theatre called the Weismann Follies. The musical uses flashback as the ageing cast join up for a reunion at their crumbling theatre, and re-discover the past in a series highly-charged emotional scenes. Love, lust, marriage, relationships, neuroses, and obsession, are some of the thematic aspects to the Follies story.

Follies Hits Broadway in 1971

Musically, Sondheim's vaudeville-style tunes, harking back to the romantic showgirl dance-hall days of the 1920s to 1940s, struck a note with Broadway audiences in 1971. The musical received eleven Tony Award nominations in 1972, winning seven, including Best Score, for Sondheim. Signature track "Losing My Mind", sung by lead character Sally Durant, has been most famously covered by Dame Shirley Bassey.

In Follies, Sally laments the loss of Ben – a past lover she desired – and acts this out, culminating in a sorrowful musical performance at the Weismann Theatre. Ben is now married to her showgirl rival Phyllis. The musical charts how the reunion of the old cast, triggers nostalgic expressions of loss and selfishness in Sally. Sally sings in a sultry silver dress of her desire for Ben, comparing her love to an obsessive daily pre-occupation with household chores. It's like a neurosis she can't let go of, and it makes the gathered cast dislike her intensely. Follies is a criticism of Sally's sense of entitlement as false, because she demands the fleeting fame of her youth bring her everything she wants.

Follies Creator Sondheim Leaves his Mark on Musical Theatre Around the Globe

Sondheim's career has spanned decades, and includes smash hit musicals Saturday Night (1954), Gypsy (1959), Sweeny Todd (1979), Bounce (2003), and more recently Road Show (2008). He has also written for theatre, including music for a production of King Lear. Hollywood film production notes include five songs for Warren Beatty's 1990 film Dick Tracy, and a guest part on The Simpsons as himself, singing a song he composed for the TV cartoon sitcom called "Yokel Chords" (2007).

For his 80th birthday the BBC Proms held a concert in his honour, with Judi Dench singing "Send in the Clowns" from the movie adaptation of his best songs; A Little Night Music. Interestingly, most of the episode titles from the television series Desperate Housewives reference his work in some way, through the use of either song titles or lyrics. Stephen Sondheim made his mark on Broadway, bringing drama to the musical, turning the traumas of fame, ambition, and pride into lyrical legends. Follies is one of his greatest creations, and is currently experiencing a performance revival across the globe.