Merrily We Roll Along (musical)

Merrily We Roll Along (musical)
Merrily We Roll Along
Original Broadway poster for Sondheim-Furth musical
Music Stephen Sondheim
Lyrics Stephen Sondheim
Book George Furth
Basis Play Merrily We Roll Along
by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart
Productions 1981 Broadway
2000 West End
Awards Drama Desk Award Outstanding Lyrics

Merrily We Roll Along is a musical with a book by George Furth and lyrics and music by Stephen Sondheim. It is based on the 1934 play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.

Furth and Sondheim retained the basic structure and overall theme of the play but updated it to encompass the period from 1957 to 1976. The story revolves around Franklin Shepard who, having once been a talented composer of Broadway musicals, has now abandoned his friends and his songwriting career to become a producer of Hollywood flicks. Like the play, the musical begins at the height of his Hollywood fame and moves backwards in time, showing snapshots of the most important moments in Frank's life that shaped the man that he is today. Like Sweeney Todd, the show utilizes a chorus that sings reprises of the title song to transition the scenes.

The musical closed on Broadway after 52 previews and only 16 performances in 1981 and marked the end of the Harold Prince-Sondheim collaborations until Bounce in 2003.


Background and original production

Prince's wife, Judy, had been "nagging" him to do a musical about teenagers, when he recalled the play Merrily We Roll Along. Sondheim said that since the play was about friendships, he wrote the songs to be interconnected. The original choreographer, Ron Field, wanted to work with Prince. The decision was made to cast teenagers, and to have tryouts in New York rather than out-of-town. The tryouts, beginning on October 8, 1981, had a poor reception, with audiences walking out. On October 21, the New York Times reported that the leading man had been replaced by Jim Walton and the Broadway opening had been postponed. Field was replaced with choreographer Larry Fuller.[1] James Weissenbach was originally Franklin Shephard, but was replaced in previews.[2]

After an unusual 52 previews, the Broadway production, directed by Prince and choreographed by Fuller, opened on November 16, 1981 at the Alvin Theatre. The show opened to mostly negative reviews. While the score was widely praised, critics and audiences alike felt that the book was problematic and the themes left a sour taste in their mouths. Hampered by the several critical reviews published prior to its official opening, as well as more negative ones published afterwards, it ran for only 16 performances. In his New York Times review on November 17, 1981, Frank Rich said of the production, "As we all should probably have learned by now, to be a Stephen Sondheim fan is to have one's heart broken at regular intervals."[3] Clive Barnes wrote, "Whatever you may have heard about it – go and see it for yourselves. It is far too good a musical to be judged by those twin kangaroo courts of word of mouth and critical consensus."[4]

The cast included Jim Walton (Franklin Shepard), Lonny Price (Charley Kringus), Ann Morrison (Mary), Terry Finn (Gussie), Jason Alexander (Joe), Sally Klein (Beth), Geoffrey Horne (Franklin Shephard age 43), David Loud (Ted), Daisy Prince (Meg), Liz Callaway (Nightclub Waitress), Tonya Pinkins (Gwen), and Giancarlo Esposito (Valedictorian). Rosie O'Donnell auditioned; she was 18 years old.

Subsequent production history

Throughout the years, with Furth and Sondheim's blessing, the musical has been staged with numerous changes, most notable of which is presenting its scenes in chronological order rather than in reverse. Sondheim has contributed new songs to several of the show's incarnations.

A production directed by James Lapine opened on June 16, 1985 at San Diego's La Jolla Playhouse, where it ran for 24 performances. The cast included John Rubinstein as Franklin Shepard, Chip Zien as Charley Kringas, Marin Mazzie as Beth and Heather MacRae as Mary Flynn. An Arena Stage production, directed by Douglas C. Wager and choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge, opened on January 30, 1990 at Washington, D.C.'s Kreeger Theater, where it ran slightly more than two months. The cast included Victor Garber, David Garrison, and Becky Ann Baker. In his review of the Arena Stage production, Rich noted that "Many of the major flaws of the 1981 Merrily, starting with its notorious gymnasium setting, have long since been jettisoned or rectified in intervening versions produced in La Jolla, Calif., and in Seattle." He called the score "exceptional."[5]

A revised production, directed by Paul Kerryson, with orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick and musical direction by Julian Kelly, opened on April 14, 1992 at the Haymarket Theatre, Leicester, where it ran for three weeks. The cast included Michael Cantwell (Franklin), Maria Friedman (Mary), and Evan Pappas (Charlie), along with Jacqueline Dankworth, Louise Gold, and, Gareth Snook.[6] A cast recording was released on a single CD in the UK in 1994 and, with extended cuts and dialogue, as a double-CD set in the US in 1997.

An off-Broadway revival, directed by Susan H. Schulman, opened on May 26, 1994 at the York Theatre in St. Peter's Church, where it ran for 54 performances. The cast included Malcolm Gets and Michele Pawk. A cast recording was released by Varèse Sarabande.

During their 1997-1998 season, SpeakEasy Stage Company performed the show the Boston Center for the Arts.

After eight previews, the West End premiere, directed by Michael Grandage, opened on December 11, 2000 at the Donmar Warehouse, where it ran for 71 performances. The cast included Mary Stockley. The production won Laurence Olivier Awards for Best Musical, Best Actor, and Best Actress.

In 2002, a reunion concert was staged at the Laguardia Concert Hall at Lincoln Center as a benefit for Musical Theatre Works, of which Lonny Price was Artistic Director. All but two of the original cast members recreated their roles, with Jason Alexander acting additionally as Master of Ceremonies. Tony-winning choreographer Kathleen Marshall directed. George Furth was not in attendance (and did not allow any of his dialogue to be spoken), but Prince and Sondheim were on hand. Shortly after, they began work together on Bounce, their first collaboration since Merrily.

As part of the Sondheim Celebration at the Kennedy Center, a limited engagement of fourteen performances opened on July 12, 2002 at the Eisenhower Theater. The cast featured Michael Hayden (Franklin), Miriam Shor (Mary), Raúl Esparza (Charley), and Emily Skinner (Gussie).[7]

Theatre Works, Mountain View, California, production opened in April 2007.[8]

The Derby Playhouse production ran from 19 April to 19 May 2007, starring Glyn Kerslake, Glenn Carter and Eliza Lumley in the lead roles.[9]

The Signature Theatre (Arlington, Virginia) production, directed by Eric Schaeffer, opened on September 4, 2007 and ran through October 14, 2007.[10]

John Doyle directed a production running at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury, Berkshire, from January 16, 2008 through March 8, 2008. It featured Sam Kenyon (Franklin), Rebecca Jackson (Gussie), Elizabeth Marsh (Mary) and Thomas Padden (Charlie). (This is Doyle's last production for the theatre.)[11][12]

A concert production of the show was held in Southampton, New York in March 2008 directed by Michael Disher, followed later by a fully staged production in September 2008.[13]

Plans for a revival by the Roundabout Theatre Company in New York, was announced in May 2008. The revival had been aiming for a Broadway production in 2009/10, but it has not occurred as of March 2011.[14]

Available Light Theatre (AVLT), opened the revised version of Merrily We Roll Along at the Vern Riffe Center in Columbus, Ohio, from August 19, 2010 through September 4, 2010. It was directed by John Dranschak, and featured Ian Short as Frank, Nick Lingnofski as Charley, and Heather Carvel as Mary. The musical director was Pam Welsh-Huggins.

In March 2011, the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park announced plans for a revival directed by John Doyle, using the actor-musician concept. The show is scheduled to open in March 2012.[15]

A three-performance production of the play will be mounted July 22, 23 and 24, 2011 by Panglossian Productions in the Williamsburg Library Theatre in Williamsburg, Va.


Act I

In the present, Franklin Shepard is a rich, famous, and influential (albeit egotistical) songwriter and film producer ("Merrily We Roll Along"). The years roll back.

In Frank's swank Los Angeles pad in 1976, after the premiere of his latest film, a party is in full swing. Frank's false showbiz "friends" are there, and bestow lavish praise on him ("That Frank"). His long-term friend and a theatre critic, Mary Flynn, who is now an alcoholic, is also at the party. She is disgusted by the people Frank has chosen to associate with and by his abandonment of music - the one thing he was truly good at - for the world of commercial film producing. Frank admits that his new film is just a formula picture, but he promises: just wait for the next film! But Mary has given up waiting, and becomes progressively more inebriated. She is ordered to leave after insulting everyone.

Frank is stung by Mary's rants, because he knows they are true. He has concentrated so completely on being a "success" that everything (and everyone) he most valued at the beginning of his career has gone. The evening ends traumatically with the breakup of Frank's marriage to his wife Gussie, a former leading actress in one of his early musicals, when she viciously attacks Meg, whom he has been seeing on the side.

Back to 1973 ("Merrily We Roll Along- First Transition"). Frank and his long-time friend, Charley Kringas, are about to be interviewed in a New York TV studio. Charley greets Mary ("Old Friends"), and tells her that Frank never has time to write shows anymore with him. Mary wonders plaintively why can't their collective friendship be "Like it Was". When the TV interview begins, a nervous Charley launches into a rampage on the way his composer has transformed himself into "Franklin Shepard Inc." Frank disowns Charley and walks out - their friendship is over.

It's 1968, and Mary, Charley and Frank are in Frank's apartment on Central Park West ("Merrily We Roll Along- Second Transition"). The two men fight over Frank's decision to do a movie version of one of their shows, Musical Husbands. Frank wants to do it for the money, but Charley says that it will get in the way of writing any new musicals for some time. Mary reminds them that they are all still old friends ("Old Friends" (Reprise)). But nothing is that simple anymore. The Broadway producer Joe Josephson and his wife Gussie arrive. She and Frank have been having an affair. When everyone leaves, Gussie shocks Frank by announcing that she intends to live with him and divorce Joe in the process ("Growing Up").

On to 1966 ("Merrily We Roll Along- Third Transition"). Frank is being divorced by Beth, and they fight over the custody of their young son in a courthouse. Beth confesses to him that she can't live with him knowing he is cheating on her with Gussie ("Not a Day Goes By"). Frank is then consoled by Mary, Charley and his other remaining friends. His pals convince him to start anew, stating that this was the "best thing that ever could have happened" ("Now You Know").

Act II

At the opening night of Musical Husbands, Gussie, having just discovered that Frank fancies her, is pondering what could come between the two of them ("Act Two Opening"). The scene transforms, and we see that Gussie is performing the song onstage, as the star of Musical Husbands. Meanwhile, the curtain comes down on the show. As the audience applauds, Charley and Frank, who are backstage with Joe, Mary and Beth, realize they have a hit ("It's a Hit!").

In 1962 ("Merrily We Roll Along- Fourth Transition"): at a party in Gussie and Joe's elegant Sutton Place apartment. Gussie has thrown a soirée so that Frank and Charley, who are going to write a musical for Joe to produce, can meet most influential people in town ("The Blob"). Pulling Frank away from the party-goers, Gussie convinces him to make his new musical, Musical Husbands, into a "big show" ("Growing Up (Part II)"). Returning to her guests, Gussie invites the songwriters to perform their latest song, "Good Thing Going". The guests love it. Gussie implores them to do an encore. Charley urges Frank not to, but Frank has already transformed. They play the song again, but the guests quickly lose interest and resume their noisy cocktail chatter ("The Blob (Reprise)"). Charley storms out.

Time turns back to 1960 ("Merrily We Roll Along- Fifth Transition"). Charley, Frank and Beth are young and beginning their careers, playing a small nightclub in Greenwich Village. Trying to appear bright and sophisticated, they perform a song celebrating America's new First Family ("Bobby and Jackie and Jack"). Joe is in the tiny audience and he's quite impressed, as is his wife Gussie, who is strongly attracted to Frank at this first meeting. After the show, Frank explains to them that he's marrying Beth, and the happy couple exchanges vows ("Not a Day Goes By (Reprise)"). At an adjoining table, Mary is distraught; she'll always feel something for Frank.

In 1959 ("Merrily We Roll Along- Sixth Transition") Frank, Charley and Mary are busy in New York, working their way up the career ladder ("Opening Doors"). The men audition for Joe, but he wants more "hummable" tunes. So they decide to do their own show and in an ensuing musical montage, end up auditioning and hiring Beth and forming their small cabaret show together.

Finally, it is October 1957 ("Merrily We Roll Along- Seventh Transition"). Early in the morning, Frank, Charley and Mary are on the roof of an old apartment house on New York City's 110th Street, waiting for the first-ever earth-orbiting satellite. Suddenly, Sputnik is there in the sky, and now, for the young friends, anything is possible ("Our Time").

Original song list

Act I
  • The Hills of Tomorrow
  • Merrily We Roll Along (1980)
  • Rich and Happy
  • Merrily We Roll Along (1979-1975)
  • Old Friends
  • Like It Was
  • Merrily We Roll Along (1974 -1973)
  • Franklin Shepard, Inc.
  • Old Friends (Reprise)
  • Not a Day Goes By
  • Now You Know
Act II
  • It's a Hit!
  • Merrily We Roll Along (1964-1962)
  • Good Thing Going
  • Merrily We Roll Along (1961-1960)
  • Bobby and Jackie and Jack
  • Not a Day Goes By (Reprise)
  • Opening Doors
  • Our Time
  • The Hills of Tomorrow (Reprise)

1993 Revival Song List (Current Version)

Act I
  • Overture - Orchestra
  • Merrily We Roll Along - Company
  • That Frank - Frank & Guests
  • First Transition - Company
  • Old Friends (Part I) - Mary & Charley
  • Like It Was - Mary
  • Franklin Shepard, Inc. - Charley
  • Second Transition - Company
  • Old Friends (Part II) - Mary, Frank & Charley
  • Growing Up - Frank & Gussie
  • Third Transition - Company
  • Not a Day Goes By - Beth
  • Now You Know - Mary & Company
Act II
  • Entr'acte - Orchestra
  • Act Two Opening - Gussie
  • It's A Hit - Frank, Charley, Mary, Joe, Beth
  • Fourth Transition - Company
  • The Blob - Gussie & Company
  • Growing Up (Part II) - Gussie
  • Good Thing Going - Charley
  • The Blob (Part II) - Company
  • Fifth Transition - Company
  • Bobby and Jackie and Jack - Charley, Beth, Frank, Pianist
  • Not A Day Goes By - Beth, Frank, Mary
  • Sixth Transition - Company
  • Opening Doors - Frank, Charley, Mary, Joe, Beth
  • Seventh Transition - Frank Jr, Beth, Mrs. Spencer
  • Our Time - Frank, Charley, Mary, and Company
  • Bows - Company
  • Exit Music - Orchestra


"Not a Day Goes By," "Good Thing Going," "Old Friends," and "Our Time" have been recorded by various artists, including Frank Sinatra, Petula Clark, Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, Betty Buckley, Cleo Laine, Liza Minnelli, Barbara Cook, Patti LuPone, Barry Manilow, Audra McDonald, Michael Crawford, and Lena Horne, and are popular especially with singers who perform on the cabaret circuit.

The original Broadway cast recording of this production was released by RCA as an LP album in April 1982, and on compact disc in 1986. A digitally remastered CD was released by Sony/BMG Broadway Masterworks in 2007 with two bonus tracks: "It's A Hit" (performed by Stephen Sondheim) and "Not A Day Goes By" (sung by Bernadette Peters).

Awards and nominations

The musical won the Olivier Award for Best Musical in 2001. Sondheim was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Original Score and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music, and won the Drama Desk prize for his lyrics. Ann Morrison won the 1982 Theatre World Award for her performance.


  1. ^ Zadan, Craig. Sondheim & Co. 1986 (Second Edition), pp. 269-79, Harper & Row, ISBN 0-06-015649-X
  2. ^
  3. ^ Rich, Frank.Stage: A New Sondheim, 'Merrily We Roll Along' The New York Times, November 17, 1981
  4. ^ Zadan, p. 279
  5. ^ "New York Times", Frank Rich, February 27, 1990
  6. ^ "1992 Leicester Haymarket Theatre Production", accessed March 6, 2011
  7. ^ 'Merrily We Roll Along', 2002 Kennedy Center Production", accessed March 6, 2011
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ Orme, Steve."Review:'Merrily We Roll Along', 2007, accessed March 6, 2011
  10. ^ Berlin, Susan.Review:'Merrily We Roll Along' (Washington. D.C.", September 11, 2007
  11. ^ The Oxford Times, Jan. 24, 2008
  12. ^ article, Feb. 4, 2008, "John Doyle Continues to Roll Along with Sondheim"
  13. ^ Watson, Dawn.Disher plays it again at Southampton Cultural Center", August 29, 2008
  14. ^ article, May 6, 2008, "Sondheim's Merrily aims for Broadway in 2009/10"
  15. ^ Hetrick, Adam."John Doyle to Stage Actor-Musician Revival of 'Merrily We Roll Along' in Cincinnati", March 6, 2011

External links

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