When the Broadway debut of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Merrily We Roll Along closed in 1981 after only 16 performances, few would have thought that the story of Merrily was only just beginning. In the coming decades, Merrily would continue to captivate audiences revival after revival, growing and evolving every step of the way. It is quite the testament to the enduring power of Sondheim that this musical, so many years after an initial failure, not only still captures imaginations, but continues to be shaped by them as well.
Now, Fiasco Theater, Roundabout’s Company-in-Residence, has re-conceptualized Sondheim’s classic in a wholly original way. By incorporating additional material from the 1934 George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart play on which Merrily is based and choosing to bring the musical’s two dozen characters to life with a cast of only six, Fiasco has trained a special focus on the intimate journey that lies at Merrily’s core.
The journey in question is that of Frank, Charley, and Mary—three friends whose lives we watch unfold in reverse, from the deepest crises of middle age to the first breaths of adulthood. By their forties, commercial success has drowned artistic integrity, and relationships have been dashed against the rocks of career. In their teens, the trio is newly bonded, with a lifetime of aspirations to pursue and more than enough ambition to make them all possible. In between lie all the traps of the American Dream – the siren song of wealth, the empty honor of fame, the instant gratification of desire—each un-sprung as the years wind mesmerizingly backwards.
The story of Merrily We Roll Along is the story of every generation of dreamers who find that the path to success diverges from those things they hold most dear. It is this universality that has solidified Merrily as an immovable, if unlikely, pillar of the musical theatre canon in the time since its premiere. Now, in shedding a bold new light on Merrily’s three central friends, Fiasco has paired the gut-wrenchingly universal with the heartbreakingly personal. And they have harnessed all the most spectacular tools of the theatre to do so, creating a Merrily that is just as precise in its character study as it is spellbinding in its musicality.
Merrily We Roll Along is Roundabout’s second collaboration with Fiasco, with whom we mounted Into the Woods in the Laura Pels Theatre four years ago. Fiasco has been developing their concept for Merrily ever since then, and it has been such a pleasure working alongside them every step of the way to bring their vision to the stage. As our Company-in-Residence, Fiasco plays a special part in Roundabout’s Artist-in-Residence program, which aims to cultivate the next generations of leaders in the theatre and bring fresh voices into the folds of our institution.
Finally, it goes without saying just how much of an honor it is to count Merrily as our eighth Sondheim production, continuing Roundabout’s long and cherished partnership with one of the foremost masters of the American theatre.
As always, I am eager to hear your thoughts on our season, so please continue to email me at ArtisticOffice@roundabouttheatre.org with your reactions. I can’t tell you how greatly I value your feedback.
I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!
Merrily We Roll Along is playing at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre January 12 - April 7, 2019.