"Good Thing Going": John Doyle Continues Stephen Sondheim Collaboration with Merrily We Roll Along

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14 Mar 2012

John Doyle
John Doyle
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Tony Award-winning director John Doyle put a tuba in the pie-making hands of Sweeney Todd's Mrs. Lovett and helped Bobby find the music within himself in Company. The U.K.-based director is again at work on another Sondheim musical for American audiences.

Doyle's new production of Merrily We Roll Along, Sondheim and George Furth's musical about a group of friends who navigate the ups and downs of love and success, also employs actor-musicians to tell its story. This production is debuting at Cincinnati's Playhouse in the Park, where the director's Tony-winning actor-musician revival of Company also premiered prior to a 2006 Broadway run.

Playbill.com caught up with Doyle just prior to opening night.

The Cincinnati run isn't your first crack at Merrily We Roll Along; you staged the piece at the Watermill Theatre in the U.K. before, correct?

JD: Yes, I did Merrily about three or four years ago. It was at the Watermill Theatre where I did Sweeney Todd and where I've done a lot of work developing the actor-musician thing. When [Playhouse artistic director] Ed Stern asked me to do something here at the Playhouse in his final season, I thought, "I'd really like to have another go at Merrily in an environment with a slightly bigger resource." I love working at Watermill, but I was interested in the possibility of exploring it again. So, I asked Steve [Sondheim] if he would be cool with me doing it in Cincinnati, and he was. So that's why it happened, really.

Since its Broadway debut in 1981, Merrily has undergone various rewrites. Did you pull from different versions or go back to explore the original?

JD: No, you know I could have tried to go back and start with "The Hills of Tomorrow" like the original, but I didn't intend to do that. That by its own nature kind of dictates the nature of the age of which you play the show, in terms of the cast, and I didn't want to do that. So, I happily have explored the latest version that James Lapine was involved with.

Everybody who has ever approached this piece, it seems to me, with any seriousness, has made their own edits and found their own way through it. Steve is very open to that, but is obviously very loyal to George's original material. I haven't rewritten anything, but I've made some edits. Partly because I'm doing it with actors who play instruments. I'm doing it with 13 people, so by its very nature that means you have to do certain things to expedite the storytelling. I don't think I trimmed it anymore than it's ever been trimmed. Because it's done with 13 people, that inevitably means that some things get trimmed because there's no doubling up of actors and characters, because you can't play two people and not change costumes. 


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