Exclusive Coverage: Inside APAC's MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG Talkback

Merrily We Roll Along superfan Jennifer Ashley Tepper participated in a talkback Saturday afternoon at the Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC)--just seven stops on the N train from Tepper's day job as director of programming at 54 Below. APAC is presenting Merrily We Roll Along through May 23 in a production directed by Dev Bondarin, who led the postshow conversation with Tepper.

"I think I am a theater historian because of Merrily," Tepper told the audience members who stayed for the Q&A following the May 16 matinee, "because I wanted to be a Merrily historian." Tepper got the name for 54 Below's concert series saluting short-lived musicals, If It Only Even Runs a Minute, from a Merrily We Roll Along lyric. And, she noted, "I was Mary Flynn for Halloween one year."

Bondarin also has a longtime love of the show, dating back to when she served as ASM on a college production of it. Merrily is the first musical she's directed for APAC; her first show as artistic director of the Queens company was last fall's world premiere of the drama In the Bones.

Exclusive Coverage: Inside APAC's MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG Talkback
Jennifer Ashley Tepper (left) and Dev Bondarin discuss the fabled history of Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along, which lasted only 16 performances after opening on Broadway in 1981. "A lot of young writers, actors, people in the business who saw this show were so shaped by it, and a lot of the diehards were people who grew up and ended up making theater," said Tepper, adding that several of today's leading musical theater writers cite Merrily We Roll Along among their favorite scores.
Exclusive Coverage: Inside APAC's MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG Talkback
Tepper read excerpts from the Merrily chapter of her book The Untold Stories of Broadway, including reminiscences by original cast members Jason Alexander, Jim Walton and David Loud.
Exclusive Coverage: Inside APAC's MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG Talkback
"It's such a heartbreaking piece, but it's also full of hope for how you could make these decisions," commented Tepper. The "1957" on the piano at right behind her and Bondarin is part of the set for the final scene.
Exclusive Coverage: Inside APAC's MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG Talkback
"This is never going to be Hello, Dolly!, obviously," Tepper said of Merrily's appeal. "It takes an invested audience to go, 'Okay, I'm going backwards. Let me think about this and let me not understand this for a moment.'" Of the show's reverse chronology, she stated, "I love that you get these reprises of songs before you get the songs."
Exclusive Coverage: Inside APAC's MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG Talkback
Somebody asked about how the original production was received by audiences. "I know this from bootlegs," Tepper said with a grin, explaining: "You can hear the audiences start to like it more over the course of previews, and then after opening everyone hates it, 'cause the critics told them it was no good."
A cast recording was made because "the record company had a deal with Sondhiem to record his shows, but they so didn't think the Merrily album would be bought or interesting to anyone"--which is why a photo of Sondheim dominates the record jacket, according to Tepper. The album (recorded the day after the show closed) ended up giving the musical new life. "It's so driven with passion," she said.
Exclusive Coverage: Inside APAC's MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG Talkback
"There's no chance it won't come back to Broadway at some point. It's too important," Tepper said in response to a question about a possible Merrily We Roll Along Broadway revival. She repeatedly praised the 2012 production at City Center Encores!, which starred Colin Donnell, Celia Keenan-Bolger and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Frank, Mary and Charley. "Every production I see, there's something different in all of them that's great. But I hate the idea of it happening without Celia Keenan-Bolger now," Tepper remarked.
Exclusive Coverage: Inside APAC's MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG Talkback
(From left) Nicholas Park, Ally Bonino and Jack Mosbacher as Charley, Mary and Frank in APAC's Merrily We Roll Along. Four performances remain this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 21-23. The theater is located at Crescent St. and 30th Rd. in Astoria, near the 30th Ave. N station. For more on the show, go to apacny.org.

Merrily We Roll Along photos by Michael Dekker; all other photos by Adrienne Onofri

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From This Author Adrienne Onofri

Adrienne Onofri has been writing for BroadwayWorld since it was launched in 2003. She is a member of the Drama Desk and has moderated panels (read more...)

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