The second trio of Stephen Sondheim musicals-in-repertory begins July 12 at Washington, DC's Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Following productions of Sweeney Todd, Company and Sunday in the Park with George, Merrily We Roll Along — the short-lived 1981 musical about three aspiring writers — is one of three Sondheim musicals that will open in the next few weeks. (Passion follows on July 19, and A Little Night Music begins previews Aug. 2.)
Part of the Kennedy Center's acclaimed Sondheim Celebration, Merrily We Roll Along has set July 13 for its official opening night and the 2:30 PM July 14 matinee for its press opening. Raúl Esparza, who just concluded a run as George Seurat in the aforementioned Sunday in the Park, stars as lyricist Charley Kringas in Merrily opposite Michael Hayden's Franklin Shepard and Miriam Shor's Mary Flynn. The remainder of the cast comprises Emily Skinner (Gussie), Adam Heller (Joe), Anastasia Barzee (Beth), Jason Gilbert (Tyler), John Jellison (Terry), Sherri Edelen (Scotty), Mary Jayne Raleigh (Dory), Sean Mclaughlin (Ru), Keith Byron Kirk (Jerome), Thursday Farrar (KT), Tracy Lynn Olivera (Meg Kincaid), Edgar Godineaux (Bunker), Ty Hreben (TV Newsman), Amy McWilliams (TV Newswoman), Jason Gilbert (Make-up Artist), Mary Jayne Raleigh (Stage Manager), Sherri Edelen (Evelyn), John Jellison (Mr. Spencer), Peggy Yates (Mrs. Spencer), Edgar Godineaux (Pianist), Ty Hreben (Photographer), Amy McWilliams (First Girl) and Keith Byron Kirk (Minister).
During rehearsals for Merrily We Roll Along, actor Esparza spoke with Playbill On-Line about the musical and the difficulties of the Sondheim score. "Merrily is a pure bred Broadway musical," explained Esparza. "It sounds like that, it moves like that. And, yet we're learning this song ['Opening Doors'] — it's all about syncopated typing at one point and singing over it . . . Also, Merrily's put together in little bits and pieces. Everything's got fragments of everything else in it, and it's going backwards. So, we're sitting there [in rehearsal], and I'm just trying to sight read [the Merrily score], and I was having the best time, and afterwards [director] Chris Ashley was like, 'That was great. You made wonderful choices. How'd you do that? You're so prepared.' I said, 'I'm not prepared. I just realized that I don't know it, so I can't possibly get it wrong.' ...I might as well have a good time. Emily [Skinner] said the same thing. She was like, 'You know what? We might as well really love it and have a great time.' And, if there's anything we learned about doing Sunday and Company is we're never gonna get it right. You just have to keep trying. Part of the point of being down here is the unbelievable thrill of it. You know, we don't get to run [the shows] that long. It's never gonna be perfect. Someone's gonna hate it, and someone else is gonna love it, but you get to do it."
Based on the play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, Merrily We Roll Along features a score by Stephen Sondheim and a book by George Furth. Concerning the lives of three friends — composer Franklin Shepard, lyricist Charley Kringas and writer Mary Flynn — the musical is told backwards in time and boasts such classic Sondheim tunes as "Like It Was," "Not a Day Goes By," "Good Thing Going," "Now You Know," "Our Time" and "Old Friends." The musical bowed on Broadway at the Alvin Theatre on Nov. 16, 1981, where it ran for only 16 performances. The original cast included Jim Walton, Ann Morrison, Lonny Price, Terry Finn, Jason Alexander, Tonya Pinkins, Daisy Prince and Liz Callaway. Musical Theatre Works will present a one-night-only original cast reunion benefit concert of Merrily in New York City on Sept. 30. Christopher Ashley — who helmed the Broadway revival of The Rocky Horror Show — directs the Kennedy Center Merrily, which runs through Aug. 24 at the Eisenhower Theatre. Tickets range from $29-$79 and can be purchased by calling (800) 444-1324. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is located in Washington, D.C., at 2700 F. Street. For more information, go to www.kennedy-center.org.
—By Andrew Gans