Stephen Sondheim Confirms That Merrily We Roll Along at Encores! Will Be Revised Script and Score
By Kenneth Jones
The February 2012 City Center Encores! concert staging of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's musical Merrily We Roll Along will not reflect the 1981 version of the script and score that played 16 performances on Broadway.
Encores!, Great American Musicals in Concert, usually follows its mandate of reviving the original versions of classic musicals in concert adaptations. Composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim told Playbill.com on Nov. 15 that the Merrily We Roll Along scheduled to play Feb. 8-19 under the direction of James Lapine will be based on Furth and Sondheim's 1980s-90s rewrite of the show.
The musical comedy inspired by the 1934 play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart may have had a brief Broadway life (earning Sondheim a Best Score Tony nomination in 1982), but it has flourished internationally ever since the authors took another crack at it in the decade following its debut.
"Under Lapine's direction, George and I revised it, particularly the first half of the first act, in 1985, when Lapine did it at La Jolla [Playhouse], and this is essentially that version," Sondheim said of the coming Encores! staging. "I'm meeting Lapine tonight and it's one of the things we're going to talk about: which aspects of which version we're going to use. It'll essentially be the 1985 [script and score], which has additional songs, things like that. George and I got it the way we wanted to, finally, in the 1990s when we did it in Leicester, England, and that's the version that's been done since. It was the version that was done down at the Kennedy Center in 2002, and that's based on the Lapine version."
There are two cast albums of the revised score: a 1993 disc of the Leicester Haymarket production and a 1994 recording of the York Theatre Company's Off-Broadway production. (The 1981 Broadway cast album is an essential part of the collection of any serious show music fan.) Domestically, Music Theatre International has licensed over 375 productions of the York Theatre's production script.
Encores! artistic director Jack Viertel told Playbill this week, in an email, "As we've always said, we're doing our 'concert adaptation' from the version that is licensed by MTI. While it is, generally, the idea of Encores! to do the original Broadway version of the show, when there are living authors who have specific preferences, we take that very seriously. In this case, the authors continued to work on the show after the Broadway production closed, and we certainly want to honor the work they did."
There had been some chatter in the community in recent years that there might be a Lapine-directed Roundabout Theatre Company Broadway production of the revised Merrily. No such plan was officially announced, but Sondheim confirmed this week: "Yes, there was talk of that, but numerous things got in the way. Roundabout said they could do it [in a future season]…far enough in advance so that when we got the chance to do it at Encores!, we thought, 'Oh, come on, let's do it — we just want to do it.'"
Fans of Sondheim, Furth and Lapine's work can't help but hope that the Encores! staging might be the template for a future commercial life.
"That would be nice," Sondheim said. "Obviously, I suppose if it really works extremely well at Encores! it might do what a lot of Encores! shows do — it might transfer, but that's not why we're doing it. We're doing it because we want to do it."
As previously reported, the Encores! Merrily We Roll Along — the plot of which, like the source play and 1981 original, plays backwards in time between 1980 to 1955 to explore the passions of three creative writers, from experience to innocence —will star Colin Donnell as Frank, Celia Keenan-Bolger as Mary, Lin-Manuel Miranda as Charley, Elizabeth Stanley as Gussie and Betsy Wolfe as Beth.
The musical was originally directed on Broadway by Harold Prince. The concert will feature orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick. The Encores! Orchestra will be under the direction of music director Rob Berman. Music and lyrics are by Sondheim; the libretto is by the late Furth, who also penned the book to Company.
Here's how Encores! bills the show: "Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's legendary musical, which runs backwards in time from 1980 to 1955, examines the lives of three friends whose friendship is tested by time, events, ambition and fate. It charts the rise of a songwriting team during the years of Sondheim’s own young career, and includes some of his most brilliant and bruising songs, including 'Not a Day Goes By,' 'Old Friends,' 'Our Time' and 'Opening Doors.' Although unsuccessful in its original 1981 Broadway production (which ran 16 performances at the Alvin Theatre), Merrily has gained stature and reputation over the ensuing years, beginning with a reconfigured version of the piece at the La Jolla Playhouse in California in 1985, directed by frequent Sondheim collaborator James Lapine. Mr. Lapine will return to the project as director of the Encores! production."
Dan Knechtges (Lysistrata Jones) will provide musical staging.
For tickets visit the City Center Box Office (West 55th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues), call CityTix at (212) 581-1212, or online at www.NYCityCenter.org. Tickets start at $25.
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