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Review Roundup: What Did the Critics Think About Roundabout and Fiasco's MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG?

Merrily We Roll Along

Roundabout Theatre Company and Fiasco Theater's production of Merrily We Roll Along, featuring a book by George Furth and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, directed by Noah Brody, officially opened last night!

The company of six includes Fiasco Co-Artistic Director Jessie Austrian, Brittany Bradford, Fiasco company member Paul L. Coffey, Manu Narayan, Fiasco Co-Artistic Director Ben Steinfeld and Fiasco company member Emily Young.

Let's see what the critics are saying...

Jesse Green, The New York Times: Here, something has flipped. The songs, with all their polish removed, no longer reflect the coherent Broadway world of the story but instead try to excavate its various interior workings. Often radically reconceived, harshly truncated or left to dribble away, they no longer ennoble the characters or provide much pleasure for the audience.

Matt Windman, amNY: It may not be the definitive "Merrily" (assuming there can ever be one), and anyone familiar with the show will probably miss its dynamic original orchestrations and smashing overture. Many scenes are vocally underpowered and underpopulated. But on the whole, the production (directed by Noah Brody, co-artistic director of Fiasco) is theatrically effective, smart and emotionally wrenching.

Frank Rizzo, Variety: This revival comes from the Fiasco Theatre Company - known for its stripped-down productions - and here features six actors playing all the roles, which may make it appealing for the provinces eager to try their hand at the show, too. Like the characters they play at the beginning of their mid-century Manhattan careers, this cast brims with nerve, energy and overreach.

The problem isn't the time-traveling aspects of the musical, but the shaky foundation of its arts-versus-commerce stakes. All the rest is simply rearranging the dramaturgical furniture, though in this production, director Noah Brody has a keen eye for revelatory details that perk up scenes and deepen characters.

Sara Holdren, Vulture: And the cumulative effect is... pretty good. Despite an abundance of appealing parts, this Merrily doesn't quite come together into a real gut-punch of a whole. There's much that's nice, some that's very funny, and a bit that's beautiful, yet the show's emotional power feels blunted and its aesthetic suspended somewhere between minimalist and maximalist. There's no shortage of spirit on offer, but visceral oomph is elusive.

Barbara Schuler, Newsday: Finally it seems someone has gotten it close to right. Fiasco, the resident company at the Roundabout Theatre Company, may not have solved all the show's problems, but the innovative company has come up with an entertaining, enjoyable production that revitalizes the bittersweet story of three people who were friends, then partners, then strangers.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, The Hollywood Reporter: The best that can be said about Noah Brody's production is that it's very efficient, running a tight 105 minutes. For this version, Fiasco looked at the 1930s source play, four versions of the Merrily scripts and archival material provided by Sondheim himself.

The result is very smooth and the reverse narration works very well: It's fun to watch Frank's relationship with Gussie (Emily Young) evolve in reverse from failed marriage to newlywed bliss to passionate illicit affair.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Cutting a good half hour out of "Merrily" doesn't solve the book's problems. The cuts simply reduce each scene to a cliché: the drunken party, the extra-marital affair, the divorce, the pretentious cultural elite, the bitter in-laws.

Speaking of cuts, the original "Merrily" featured 27 performers, most of them making their Broadway debuts. The Fiasco production gives us six, which translates into double- and triple-casting for Paul L. Coffey, Emily Young and Bradford. Noah Brody's direction doesn't always make sense of what characters these three are playing. Brody handles the time element with greater ease but little finesse: Every few minutes, one of the actors yells out what year it's supposed to be.

Christopher Kelly, The scale of this "Merrily We Roll Along" is small: Just a single set (albeit resourcefully designed by Derek McLane to contain multitudes of props); an eight-member orchestra; and a six-person cast, with each of the actors taking on multiple parts. Yet director and Fiasco Theater co-founder Noah Brody (who previously staged Sondheim's "Into the Woods" for the Roundabout) wisely trusts the core of the material (Sondheim wrote the musical and lyrics, George Furth the book), which invites its audience to project their own dashed dreams and everyday regrets onto these broken characters. The result is humane, affecting and completely realized - a very big deal indeed.

Steven Suskin, New York Stage Review: When Merrily We Roll Along first staggered through previews, opened to general calumny and floundered within a fortnight, even the master songsmith's staunchest supporters were likely to think, well this one doesn't work. Subsequent productions have demonstrated that Merrily does work, indeed; just look at it now, at the Roundabout.

Elysa Gardner, New York Stage Review: The lyric, like so many in Merrily, carries a bittersweet sting-perhaps enhanced, in this case, by the sense of failed promise many of us see now not only in our lives but whenever we read the news. If Fiasco's staging falls short of a revelation, or reinvention, it unearths the joys and pain at this vexing but compelling musical's core, making it feel freshly vital.

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