OPERA NEWS - Viewpoint: Merrily Ever After
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Viewpoint: Merrily Ever After

By F. Paul Driscoll

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Old friends: Manu Narayan, Jessie Austrian and Ben Steinfeld in Fiasco Theater’s Merrily
© Joan Marcus

IN JANUARY, I saw a terrific new production of Merrily We Roll Along, the Stephen Sondheim–George Furth musical. The travails of the first Merrily production, a high-profile Broadway failure in 1981, have been well documented, but Merrily has never really left the musical-theater scene. There have been numerous stagings and concert performances in the U.S., England and Australia during the past thirty-six years, most of them presenting significant revisions to the original material.

The new Merrily, directed by Noah Brody, represents the show’s most substantial revision to date. Developed by Fiasco Theater, an in-house theater company at the Roundabout Theatre Company, and realized with the blessing of Sondheim, Merrily is scheduled to run at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre through April 7. The show plays in under two hours, with no intermission, and uses a cast of just six actors to tell the story of the sweet-and-sour friendship that binds composer/producer Franklin Shepard to novelist Mary Flynn and playwright Charley Kringas for thirty years. Fiasco cofounder Jessie Austrian, who plays Mary Flynn, calls the new Merrily, which incorporates material excised from the original production,“a new draft based on previous drafts.” Whatever its gestation, the show works: I’ve seen several other productions over the years, and this staging wins the highest marks for clarity of storytelling and surety of purpose.

No other musical-theater fans approach the feverish passion of Sondheim addicts; there are those who admire Hamilton and Rent with impressive eagerness, but they are amateurs compared to a true Sondheimite, who can wax as rhapsodic about Anyone Can Whistle and Bounce as about Company and Sunday in the Park with George. Is there any equivalent constancy in opera fandom? In “Serial Monogamy,” Charles Shafaieh looks at opera’s most committed devotees, the Wagnerites—who equal the Sondheimites in devotion but lack their appetite for revision to their idol’s work. spacer 

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