Krystal Joy Brown On Finding The Heart In MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG
By far the most anticipated Broadway revival this fall is Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along. After a sold-out run at New York Theatre Workshop last fall, the production moves uptown to Broadway’s Hudson Theatre where it begins previews on Tuesday, September 19, 2023.
Following three friends, Merrily tells the story of the ups and downs of relationships and careers in reverse chronological order starting in the the hardship of adulthood and traveling back to the dreams of young artists in New York City. With a book by George Furth, the musical first premiered on Broadway in 1981, and though there have been a few notable productions in the last 40 years, this marks the show’s first official Broadway revival.
Maria Friedman directs a wildly talented cast including Daniel Radcliffe, Jonathan Groff, and Lindsay Mendez. I recently caught up with Krystal Joy Brown who takes on the role of Gussie Carnegie on the set of Theatrely’s 2023 Fall Preview to chat about this Sondheim classic and finding the heart in the piece.
What was your first interaction with Merrily We Roll Along?
Well, of course, growing up, you hear the music — it's Sondheim. And Not a Day Goes By and Bernadette Peters, it's iconic. I remember hearing that song and people talking about some of the music in school but I never knew the story. When I saw it was coming in, I sent my team the news story and told them this is the type of work I want to be doing, and six months later I got an audition. When I looked up the material and saw Gussie was always saying she’s so close to the top, she’s done a few Broadway shows — I looked at this material and went, oh I know her. I get her.
You were a smash hit Off-Broadway. How did it go downtown, and what are you looking forward to most with it now on Broadway?
When we did it at NYTW, it was a very emotional piece. In our rehearsals, we cried a lot because it's about artists and success and dreaming, and we are all artists who are trying to have success and who are dreaming. I think the more vulnerable the piece is, the more it matters, because all of these characters are deeply flawed, but so are human beings. But it's easy to not like them if you aren't going in from the place of your heart. And I think this particular production and having Jonathan [Groff] at the helm, it's very heart centric.
I feel like the theater is almost a spiritual place — you come in to be changed and hopefully changed for the better. I want folks to have a cathartic experience and leave changed. I notice with our audiences, oftentimes they immediately want to go call a friend. This musical makes you want to call your loved ones. And I want to be a part of things that make people go introspective and think about their life and their legacy and the people in their lives that they need to reconnect to.
You have a pretty stellar cast. Talk to me about working with this particular company.
I have to say, it is the best experience with a cast that I've ever had. There is just something so intrinsically pure, and maybe it's because our three leads are so strong and they sacrificed so much to do this piece. I think it inspires us all and they keep us a unit and it trickles down from the top. This show is so fun, and funny, and emotional, and getting to do it with this company, the sacred space we have created with each other, it's a dream.
Do you have a favorite song in the show?
I mean, I love The Blob. It is so fun because the ensemble might only sing six words but they kill it, they are so funny. On stage I'm not supposed to be looking at them but I just hear these ridiculous noises next to me and I just love it. I'm from Virginia and as a kid I watched all of the New York movies that existed and would go “oh all those fabulous people,” and that is the exact essence of The Blob - the movers and shakers. Just such a fun moment on stage!
Merrily We Roll Along features choreography by Tim Jackson, orchestrations by Tony Award winner Jonathan Tunick, scenery and costume design by Soutra Gilmour, lighting design by Amith Chandrashaker, sound design by Kai Harada, and hair and wig design by Cookie Jordan.
For tickets and more information, visit here.