By Steven Suskin
17 Jul 2012
Merrily We Roll Along [PS Classics]
Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's 1981 musical Merrily We Roll Along has had phrases like "troubled," "misbegotten" and "fascinating-but-unworkable" attached to it for so long that one might think that at some point they officially changed the title to Sondheim's Fascinating-But-Unworkable Merrily We Roll Along. It is now just as officially time to retire that sentiment, with this past February's production at City Center Encores! serving as Exhibit A and the resulting PS Classics two-disc cast recording serving as Exhibit B. (I originally labeled the recording "Exhibit 1," but changed it to "B" to avoid confusing readers. Any true Sondheimite knows, however, that A is 1 and 1 is 2.)
But there is only so much you can do, fixin'-wise, when the production is up and running. If the problems extend to the production concept and the set, and the casting, you are stuck sticking band-aids on an iceberg. If you know what I mean.
Merrily failed despite all rescue attempts, leaving a figurative hole in the spirit of the authors. The original cast album, recorded just after the closing, was at once a balm and an ache; how could something that sounds this good turn out this bad?
Sondheim rebounded in 1984 with a new librettist/director, James Lapine. The pair created the Pulitzer-winning Sunday in the Park with George which — not coincidentally — underwent an extended public workshop at Playwrights Horizons, some nine months prior to the Broadway production. At the start of the workshop, Sunday wasn't quite ready; they only managed to get to the second act for the final three of twenty-five performances. Which is to say that if Sunday had opened cold — with audiences bringing Broadway expectations and paying Broadway prices at the first preview, like at Merrily — they might have also found themselves in the proverbial soup.
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