REWORKED “MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG” TAKES THE STAGE

February 23, 2019 at 5:15 am

In 1981, Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince’s Merrily We Roll Along opened on Broadway…and it closed—just 16 performances later.  Now, a newly-revised production is hitting the New York stage.  Here’s a look at Fiasco Theater and Roundabout Theater Company’s production of Merrily We Roll Along.

Aired on February 22, 2019.

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>>> IN 1981 STEVEN SONDHEIM AND
HAL PRINCE'S "MERRILY WE ROLL
ALONG" OPENED ON BROADWAY AND IT
CLOSED JUST 16 PERFORMANCES
LATER.
NOW A NEWLY REVIVED PRODUCTION
IS HITTING THE NEW YORK STAGE.
HERE IS A LOOK AT FIASCO THEATER
AND ROUNDABOUT THEATER COMPANY'S
PRODUCTION OF "MERRILY WE ROLL
ALONG."
§
>> THREE OLD FRIENDS ARE BACK IN
TOWN, FRANK, MARY AND CHARLIE
ARE BEST FRIENDS, ARTISTS AND
THE MAIN CHARACTERS IN THE
MUSICAL "MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG."
IT'S A SHOW ABOUT FOLLOWING
DREAMS, GROWING UP, SUCCESS AND
THE CHOICES PEOPLE MAKE THAT
SHAPE THEIR JOURNEY.
§
>> SCORED BY STEVEN SONDHEIM AND
PRODUCED AND DIRECTED FOR
BROADWAY BY THE LEGENDARY HAL
PRINCE, THE ORIGINAL PRODUCTION
WAS MET WITH BAD REVIEWS WHEN IT
OPENED IN 1981 DESPITE ITS DREAM
CREATIVE TEAM.
THE SHOW CLOSED JUST TWO WEEKS
LATER AND THE CAST RECORDED AN
ALBUM THAT LET THE MUSICAL LIVE
ON.
"MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG" HAS BEEN
REVIVED AND REMOUNTED SEVERAL
TIMES IN THE NEARLY 40 YEARS
SINCE THAT FIRST PRODUCTION, BUT
NEVER LIKE IT'S BEING DONE NOW.
§
>> IN THIS LATEST ITERATION OF
"MERRILY" CREATED BY FIASCO
THEATER AND CO-PRODUCED BY
ROUNDABOUT THEATER COMPANY THE
BEST ELEMENTS OF OTHER VERSIONS
OF THE SHOW ARE COMBINED TO
CREATE A VIBRANT NEW PRODUCTION
THAT HARKENS BACK TO PRINCE AND
SONDHEIM'S ORIGINAL VISION.
DIRECTOR NOAH BRODY.
>> WE READ IT AND WE HAD A LOT
OF IDEAS, WE HAD RESPONSES I
SHOULD MAYBE SAY, WE HAD
RESPONSES TO THE PIECE AND WE
HAD A MEETING WITH STEVE.
>> THAT'S STEVE SONDHEIM.
>> WE TALKED ABOUT THE SHOW AND
LIKE WANTED TO HEAR WHAT HIS
IDEAS WERE, WHAT HE THOUGHT THE
SHOW WAS ABOUT, WHAT THE
INSPIRATIONS WERE.
>> FIASCO THEATER PRIDES ITSELF
ON DEVELOPING MINIMALIST
PRODUCTIONS THAT FOCUS CONCRETE
TESTIFY STORY TELLING, BUT THEY
DON'T NORMALLY CHANGE THE SCRIPT
OR SCORE.
WITH "MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG" THE
COMPANY REALIZED IT WOULD HAVE
TO BE DIFFERENT.
>> AND WE WANTED TO KIND OF PUT
OUR IDEAS AND RESPONSES OUT
THERE, I THINK, KIND OF TO TEST
THE WATERS TO SEE TO WHAT DEGREE
IS HE INTERESTED IN ANYBODY
WORKING ON THIS SHOW AND NOT
MERELY DOING IT AS-IS.
>> BRODY SAYS SONDHEIM WAS
IMMEDIATELY INTERESTED IN HAVING
THAT CONVERSATION.
>> THAT WAS ONE OF THE THINGS
THAT WAS SO KIND OF EXCITING AND
EXHILARATING FOR US IS THAT HE
IMMEDIATELY GOT IN THERE IN THE
DISCUSSION AS AN ARTIST I CAN
COLLABORATOR.
>> WITH SONDHEIM'S BLESSING THE
FIASCO THEATER CREATIVE TEAM
WENT TO WORK REIMAGINING
"MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG" AND THE
EGOT WINNER, SONDHEIM HAS A
PULITZER, GRAMMY, OSCAR, TONY
AWARD CONTINUED TO HELP.
>> HE HAD HIS ASSISTANT SEND HIS
ARCHIVES OVER WHICH INCLUDED THE
REHEARSAL DRAFT FROM '81,
PERFORMANCE DRAFT FROM '81,
MUSICAL ARCHIVES THAT INCLUDED
SONGS THAT NEVER MADE IT ON
STAGE.
>> IT'S BEEN A THRILLING
ARTISTIC EXPERIENCE FOR THE CAST
AND CREATIVE TEAM OF THIS
"MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG"
PRODUCTION.
JUST AS IT WAS FOR THE ORIGINAL
BROADWAY COMPANY.
>> MY NAME IS LONNIE PRICE AND I
WAS THE ORIGINAL CHARLIE IN THE
ORIGINAL BROADLY COMPANY OF
"MERRILY" AND THE DOCUMENTARY I
MADE ABOUT MY EXPERIENCE AND THE
EXPERIENCE OF THE ORIGINAL CAST
IS CALLED "BEST WORST THING THAT
EVER COULD HAVE HAPPENED."
>> IT WAS ONE OF THE BETTER
THINGS THAT EVER HAPPENED TO ME.
>> BEING CAST BY THEM AT ALL WAS
JUST INSANE AND IT WAS EVERY
FANTASY POSSIBLE.
IT MEANT EVERYTHING.
>> NOW PRICE IS A SEASONED
DIRECTOR OF THEATER, TV AND
FILM.
BACK THEN IT WAS A YOUNG ACTOR
JUST STARTING HIS CAREER AND
THAT'S WHAT SONDHEIM AND PRINCE
WERE LOOKING FOR IN THEIR
PRODUCTION.
THE ORIGINAL CONCEPT WAS THIS,
THE STORY OF SHOW BIZ
FRIENDSHIPS THAT START IN
COLLEGE AND FALL APART IN THE
DECADES THAT FOLLOW WOULD BE
PERFORMED IN REVERSE
CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER BY YOUNG
ACTORS, PEOPLE IN THEIR TEENS
AND EARLY 20s WHO WOULD START
THE SHOW PLAYING OLDER AND
CONTINUE MOVING BACKWARDS IN
TIME UNTIL THE CHARACTERS THEY
PLAY REACH THEIR REAL AGES.
THE REVERSE CHRONOLOGY PAIRED
WITH UNIQUE COSTUME CHOICES
DIDN'T GO OVER WELL WITH
AUDIENCES OR CRITICS.
>> "MERRILY" DIDN'T GO OUT OF
TOWN, WHICH I THINK WAS
PROBABLY, YOU KNOW, PROBLEMATIC
FOR IT AND, YOU KNOW, IT DIDN'T
START PREVIEWS WELL AND THEY DID
AN ENORMOUS AMOUNT OF WORK ON
IT.
I MEAN, WE HAD FIVE WEEKS OF
PREVIEWS OR SIX WEEKS OF
PREVIEWS AND, YOU KNOW, THIS HE
REPLACED PEOPLE AND, I MEAN,
THEY JUST KILLED THEMSELVES, AS
HARD AS THEY WORKED IT JUST
WASN'T KIND OF HAPPENING.
>> PRICE SAYS THE MUSIC CAPTURED
ON THE ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM WAS
SO BEAUTIFUL, THOUGH, THAT
DESPITE THE SHOW'S CHALLENGES,
DIRECTORS STILL WANTED TO TAKE A
CRACK AT IT.
BRODY BEING THE LATEST.
>> THE SHOW HAS BEEN SO ALTERED
SINCE THE FIRST VERSION OF IT.
THIS VERSION ACTUALLY PUTS BACK
A LOT OF WHAT WE INITIALLY DID.
>> THAT'S NO ACCIDENT.
BRODY AND THE CREATIVE TEAM
POURED OVER THE ORIGINAL 1934
PLAY UPON WHICH THE MUSICAL IS
BASED.
IN ADDITION TO THE VARIOUS
ITERATIONS OF THE SCRIPT AND
SCORE FROM SONDHEIM'S ARCHIVES.
>> WE HAD MULTIPLE WORKSHOPS IN
WHICH WE WERE TRYING OUT
DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO THE
STORY TELLING.
>> FIASCO THEATER IS A COMPANY
OF ADULTS, SO THE POTENTIAL
CONFUSION AROUND KIDS PLAYING
OLDER WASN'T AN ISSUE, BUT WITH
THREE VERSIONS OF THE SHOW TO
PULL FROM, OTHER CHOICES HAD TO
BE MADE ABOUT WHICH SONGS TO
USE, WHICH SCENES TO INCLUDE AND
HOW TO SIMPLIFY THE LARGE CAST
OF CHARACTERS.
ULTIMATELY THE TEAM DECIDED TO
WINNOW DOWN WHAT WAS ORIGINALLY
A CAST OF 27 ACTORS TO JUST SIX
ACTORS PLAYING A HANDFUL OF
ROLES EACH.
>> TURNS OUT YOU DON'T NEED A
LOT OF OTHER THINGS AND RATHER
THAN TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR
AN ENTIRE GENERATION, WE THOUGHT
LET'S TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR
THESE SIX PEOPLE AND LET THEM
STAND IN AS A MICROCOSM FOR BOTH
THAT GENERATION AND THE
UNIVERSAL QUESTIONS THAT WE ALL
FACE.
>> PRICE APPROVES.
HE SAYS FIASCO THEATER'S VERSION
OF "MERRILY" SEEMS THE MOST
HUMAN TO HIM.
PERHAPS BECAUSE OF THE
PRODUCTION'S SMALLER SCALE.
>> IT'S THE WAY HAL PRINCE
ALWAYS WANTED TO DO IT
ORIGINALLY.
HONESTLY IT'S MY FAVORITE
VERSION THAT I HAVE EVER SEEN.
>> "MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG" RUNS
THROUGH APRIL 7th AT THE LAURA
PELL'S THEATER.

Mutual of America PSEG

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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