Stephen Sondheim is one of American Musical Theatre’s most treasured composer and lyricist and one of my favorites. I am a huge fan of many of his works including Company, A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd. His famously “troubled” work, Merrily We Roll Along opened in 1981 and closed after only 16 performances. It is the story of a group of young idealistic talents that meet in 1957 who find themselves embittered and embattled in 1980 and how they got there. But it is told in reverse so that we see the layers stripped away instead of being built up.
Many attempts have been made in the ensuing three decades by Sondheim and others to remake it into a hit. I have heard the score and I enjoyed the music but had a hard time placing it in context as I had never seen a production. The Roundabout Theatre Company’s resident Fiasco Theater company fixed that.
First they streamlined the performers. The musical is based on a play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart has 91 characters. The original Broadway production had 27 actors. This production has six performers. Then they streamlined the book and songs to eliminate the intermission. I feel they did a great job.
The talented six performers – Jessie Austrian, Brittany Bradford, Paul L. Coffey, Manu Narayan, Ben Steinfeld, and Emily Young – are exceptional. There were rumors this version may transfer to Broadway but middling reviews may prevent that move. You should see this version and let me know what you think.