MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, A Spectacular Broadway Feast — Review
“When an audience is quiet like that it means they're really concentrating,” remarks Mary early on in Act II as the group listens in on their Broadway opening.
For the entirety of the almost two hour and forty five minute run time, all 970 audience members seated at the Hudson Theatre for Merrily We Roll Along are quietly attentive as they behold a true Sondheim classic, reborn.
First premiered in 1981, and considered a gigantic flop, Merrily follows the heartbreaking and winding deterioration of the relationship of a group of three best friends: Frank, a successful composer and later Hollywood producer; Mary, a sarcastic and quick-witted novelist turned alcoholic critic; and Charley, a lyricist who believes in art most of all. Told in reverse chronological order starting in 1976 and ending where they first meet in 1957, Merrily We Roll Along has always been seen as a problem child in the American musical theatre.
Although the show has a beautiful and melodic score by Stephen Sondheim, George Furth’s book paired with Hal Prince’s original direction was confusing to commercial audiences in the early 80s. With high expectations, critics and fans alike turned their heads and the show closed within a few weeks.
42 years later, Maria Friedman brilliantly takes on the gargantuan task of helming this musical. No stranger to Sondheim’s work after portraying numerous of his beloved roles on the London and New York stage, Friedman brought new life to Merrily when she first directed this production at the intimate Menier Chocolate Factory in 2012. After a move to the West End, Boston’s Huntington Theatre, and New York Theatre Workshop downtown, a decade has passed and we are so fortunate to have it here on the Broadway stage, in its first revival ever.
Further, it's hard to go wrong when you have Daniel Radcliffe, Jonathan Groff, and Lindsay Mendez above the title. The heart of the show lies with this trio whose genuine connection and truth shines out across the Hudson stage eight times a week. Groff, who has the charisma down pat, dazzles as Frank. When paired with Radcliffe’s Charley, filled with loveable charm, and Mendez’s Mary who is utterly gut-wrenching to watch as her true love slips away, this trio equals Broadway perfection.
This review can not go any further before heralding Krystal Joy Brown’s tour de force and star turn as Gussie Carnegie. As Frank’s wife later in life (earlier in the show), she is the story’s guiding timekeeper and truly glimmers in a role that can often fade to the back. Katie Rose Clarke is marvelous as Beth and has the privilege of singing one of Sondheim’s greatest tunes, “Not A Day Goes By.” Reg Rogers is hilarious as always as producer Joe Josephson who gave Frank and Charley their start. The hardworking ensemble helps us transition back in time playing multiple characters and blending in effortlessly across the story. Corey Mach, Natalie Wachen, and Sherz Aletaha are always lovely to watch in their respective roles.
Soutra Gilmour’s multi-functional scenic design works well and her stunning costume design helps punctuate time across the story. The gorgeous thirteen-piece band sits atop the set playing Jonathan Tunick’s incredible orchestrations, including a fully restored overture that was not with this production in its previous American runs.
Merrily marks the third Broadway revival of a Sondheim work since his death, in addition to the premiere of his final work, Here We Are, at The Shed. Many of his shows are beloved, but if you want a healthy dose of Broadway serotonin, get thee to the Hudson immediately. Truth be told, you don’t need to listen to the critics, and if you have gotten this far in the review, I think we are all on the same page. Some true theatre magic is happening on that stage, and for that we will forever be grateful.
Merrily We Roll Along is now in performance at the Hudson Theatre on West 44th Street in New York City. For tickets and more information, visit here.