How to Stream Broadway's Will Rogers Follies - The Lost Archive

How to Stream Broadway's Will Rogers Follies - The Lost Archive

Is the filmed Broadway production of The Will Rogers Follies lost forever?

Having a Broadway show filmed for release is an uphill battle - from budgets that can compete with the original capitalization for the stage show, to complex contracts with multiple unions that all have to green-lit the expensive capture.

While over 150 Broadway productions were filmed to date, a sizeable portion of them has either only managed to reach agreements for very limited releases or got lost forever due to expired distribution rights.

From one-night cinema showings to limited TV airings, our Lost Archive looks at all the shows that spent millions on being professionally filmed - but have been long lost. We detail the history of each production and try to understand the reasoning behind the limited release, and ultimately try to locate the lost recordings.

This week we're looking at the original Broadway production of The Will Rogers Follies:



Directed and choreographed by Tommy Tune with a score by Cy Coleman, "The Will Rogers Follies", a unique and one-of-a-kind theatrical experience opened on Broadway in 1991 and quickly became a crowd favorite.

Inspired by the life of the American folk hero Will Rogers, the musical revue tells his true life story using the backdrop of the Ziegfeld Follies. Will Rogers' famous quotes are sprinkled throughout the evening, including complete songs that are based on his memorable sayings - "I never met a man I didn't like" is a song that receives multiple reprises in the show.

The production not only contains big musical numbers but also multiple rope trick acts and live animals wandering around the stage in what seemed like circus acts between the scenes.

What sounds like a bizarre experience was a huge hit playing at Broadway's largest theater - The Palace. The musical received mostly positive reviews, with Michael Frym writing for Variety: "“Will Rogers Follies” whisks the audience away to a time when Americans had heroes they truly loved, and entertainment that truly entertained."

The musical was nominated for 11 Tony Awards - taking home the Tony Award for Best Musical, beating out major musicals such as Miss Saigon, Once on This Island, and The Secret Garden. 



In a unique agreement, the JSB Network (Japanese Satellite Broadcasting) invested nearly $1.5 million in the musical's Broadway capitalization in exchange for capturing the show live on Broadway for Japanese audiences. 

What sounds like the recent agreement between Diana the Musical producers and Netflix (who by buying the live capture rights to Diana financed a part of the Broadway run) was not a complete rarity on Broadway. In the late '70s, Stephen Sondheim's original Broadway production of Pacific Overtures received the same treatment when it was filmed for the Japanese network in exchange for major financing for the stage production.

Several years later, it was Julie Andrew's big Broadway comeback in Victor/Victoria that was financed by JSB in exchange for the broadcast of opening night on Japanese television (the only recording which also became available later on in the west).

Other shows on the network included the English Japanese touring productions of Little Shop of Horrors and 42nd Street, both of which featured the U.S. tour casts who flew to Japan to film the productions.

"Will Rogers Follies" Producers agreed to film the show live in performance, and allow JSB 30 airings over a period of 3 years. The filmed capture featured a special intro of Tommy Tune stepping out of a limo in Times Square and entering The Palace Theater to watch the show.



The musical closed on Broadway in 1993, nearly 2 years after its debut and 1000 performances later. While stunt casting helped the show survive past the original cast's departure, the show did not manage to fill the big Palace Theatre with producers typically closing levels of the theater at certain performances.

The show went on to tour the U.S. twice and continues to be produced today by various theater companies across the world.



How to watch Broadway's "The Will Rogers Follies" today?

The original agreement between Broadway producers and the JSB network did not include future distribution of the filmed musical on home media, or airings outside of Japan past the 3-year deal.

While many recordings from the Japanese network surfaced in the theater community over the years, an official release of the live capture was never made available in any part of the world.

Other recordings that were filmed specifically for JSB were later made available to own, such as Julie Andrew's Broadway return in Victor/Victoria, which even included the introduction Andrews filmed for Japanese audiences ahead of the program.

Certain home copies of the televised show can be found today on popular video sites, usually together with full Japanese subtitles that were included in some of the 30 airings through JSB.