Merrily We Roll Along Previews (2019)

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Merrily We Roll Along Previews (2019)#26
Posted: 1/13/19 at 10:37am

ljay889 said: "Thanks for the pic! Is there a small band or just a piano? Based on the podium in the pic, it looks like they're going back to the "Hills of Tomorrow" graduation theme, but I was under the impression that Sondheim doesn't usually allow that."

I missed that. Why doesn't he allow it?

 

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Merrily We Roll Along Previews (2019)#27
Posted: 1/13/19 at 10:54am

Woah, woah, woah, wow, this is a lot. Are we finally to be rid of the revised version of the script? Was Frank and Beth's kid in this at all? Did they bring back the joke about naming the kid Alvin? The cafe is back but now it's in New York, I wonder what changes they made there - and what happens during the Spencer apartment scene? Because that's thoroughly new! Is the commencement used as a bookend, or does it just start the show? Shame they couldn't bring back Honey, though I suppose without an intermission it's long enough. 

I've never been so curious in my entire life and I can't wait to hear more about what's happening here. I love the bric-a-brac set, it looks like a nice return to the original concept where the cast would be changing onstage.

Updated On: 1/13/19 at 10:54 AM
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Merrily We Roll Along Previews (2019)#28
Posted: 1/13/19 at 11:10am

Charley Kringas Inc said: "....I've never been so curious in my entire life and I can't wait to hear more about what's happening here."

Are you sure you want it here? I hate to pre-empt the live-action experience.

If you really need to know:

 
Click Here To Toggle Spoiler Content

No kid--except in brief allusions. Cafe is in NY (wasn't it always?) but is mostly theoretical.  All the staging is minimal, and 'Bobby & Jackie & Jack' is performed by the Charlie, Beth & Frank with Mary on a drum-set house-right.  

Spencer's Apartment scene is Beth and her parents sitting in their Living Room.  Beth, Franklin and the baby are living with her parents.  Beth is exhausted from a day of childcare and Beth's father is angrily denouncing the off-stage Frank for being a lazy, no-talent good-for-nothing.  Frank bounds onstage in the middle of the rant and then Charlie and Mary stop by, inviting Frank to join them to 'second act' "Fiorello".  Charlie mentions they've received an offer to work on a film and alludes to Frank's having turned it down.  Beth is furious--how could Frank not have told her about such an opportunity?  Frank makes an impassioned speech about how working in movies means "doing what they tell you to do" and he doesn't want to sell out, he wants to do his own music.  

I think the scene is expendable; it makes the point but is heavy-handed. 

The podium appears in the opening scene only although the staging is echoed in the closing, in which the other characters fade into the shadows and Franklin is left more or less where he was standing at the podium, repeating the final line of 'our time'--"...me and you.  me and you.  me and you, me and......"

 

 

You think, what do you want? You think, make a decision...
Updated On: 1/13/19 at 11:10 AM
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Merrily We Roll Along Previews (2019)#29
Posted: 1/13/19 at 11:14am

I was there last night. Merrily is one of my absolute favorite shows, and I saw the Encores production along with the Boston transfer from London. So imagine my surprise when I showed up to them telling me it was 1hr 45m without an intermission, and then my extended surprise when I open the Playbill to see that they replaced “That Frank” with “Rich and Happy.”

 

To quote the note from Todd Haimes in the Playbill, this production “boldly incorporat[ted] into the original script additional material from the 1934 George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart play on which Merrily is based.” I mean hey, I love Merrily as is, but I was down and excited!

 

Sadly, it’s...and I hate saying this...not there yet. Any production of Merrily that doesn’t end in me crying during Our Time isn’t there yet. 

 

This is a different show from the Merrily I know and love which, don’t get me wrong, isn’t a bad thing! But they really did use a lot of the original book and it took some getting used to. 

 

It begins with the Frank graduation speech where its pretty easy to empathize with the guy, and before you know it you’re into Franklin Shepard Inc. and then into The Blob and then to Our Time. The whole thing moved very quickly, and I feel like it never quite settled. When you get through the “really bad Frank” stage in 10 minutes, it makes the rest of the show slightly less effective. 

 

The core of the show is still there, and Good Thing Going can always slow things down (in a good way), but it just...never clicked for me I guess. I really feel like it might get there with some work through previews, and this thing is FAR from bad. It was just lacking some much needed richness.

 

The production itself was really interesting too. I mean I was in such shock the whole time that it hardly mattered, but Fiasco DID put their spin on things! They did some fun things with the fact there were only six people in the cast (especially during The Blob), among some other clever ideas, but the most notable change was the new Alexander Gemignani orchestrations. Now You Know is an almost different song entirely, and something is done musically (which I don’t really want to spoil) at the end of Our Time which was absolutely brilliant and probably the best part of the entire production.

 

Finally, the cast did a great job as a whole. Special shout out to Ben Steinfeld’s Frank and Manu Norayan’s Charlie, who blew the roof off the theatre with his Franklin Shepard Inc. 

 

The most ironic part of this whole experience is that for years I have been frustrated with Roundabout for not giving Merrily a shot. Turns out, they were almost giving it too much of a shot the whole time, which I almost prefer. Unfortunately, I also prefer the Maria Friedman production.

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Merrily We Roll Along Previews (2019)#30
Posted: 1/13/19 at 12:37pm

I am definitely getting more excited about this production.
Sondheim is famously pleased with their revised version, and calls the Friedman production the best he’s ever seen. I know the Donmar London production also incorporated the original and revised versions, including The Hills of Tomorrow and Rich and Happy. Dont quote me, but I believe I read that Sondheim was not happy with it, Id have to do some more research on this though.
Are they using the original Now You Know lyrics? Im guessing it may be a mixture of the original and revised, something the Donmar also did for the number.

Updated On: 1/13/19 at 12:37 PM
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Merrily We Roll Along Previews (2019)#31
Posted: 1/13/19 at 1:23pm

ljay889 said: "...Are they using the original Now You Know lyrics? Im guessing it may be a mixture of the original and revised, something the Donmar also did for the number."

 

I believe these are the original 'Now you know' lyrics, although the scene is now indoors and includes only Frank, Charley, Mary & Joe.

You think, what do you want? You think, make a decision...
Updated On: 1/13/19 at 01:23 PM
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Merrily We Roll Along Previews (2019)#32
Posted: 1/13/19 at 1:25pm
I love the original lyrics, but Franks Im in a divorce court section from the revised version is far superior. I hope theyre using the revised lyrics for that brief section.
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Merrily We Roll Along Previews (2019)#33
Posted: 1/13/19 at 1:27pm
Also, for some reason, whenever I post from my phone its erasing all quotation marks and apostrophes.
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Merrily We Roll Along Previews (2019)#34
Posted: 1/13/19 at 1:43pm

Full disclosure, I'm an original cast member, so this show is very dear to my heart, as you can imagine.  I was there last night and found it thrilling.  It's a complete top-to-bottom reinvention of the show, one that focuses solely on the six main characters, using some earlier book scenes and lyrics, most of which I've never heard before.  Locations are changed, songs are deconstructed, lyrics are reassigned -- and the whole thing works incredibly well.  I thought Fiasco's "Into the Woods" was one of the most inventive, successful productions of the past 10 years, and they've done it again.  And I can't say enough about Alexander Gemignani's arrangements, they're remarkable.  GO AND ENJOY!!

 

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Merrily We Roll Along Previews (2019)#35
Posted: 1/13/19 at 9:57pm

Thanks to ATC, I found my answer regarding Sondhiem's unhappiness with the Donmar production. There are plenty of contradictions, and at one point Sondheim did say he and Furth were not fully aware of the production using much of the original version, and he would've stopped it if it wasn't too late. 

The problem was that due to a misunderstanding, George Furth and I didn’t know that the version they were doing was the original version, not the revised one. I really liked what we spent years revising, and we would have stopped them if we had known. But we only found out when they were already in rehearsal.”

http://ovrtur.com/production/2892495

Later in "Finishing The Hat" Sondheim said he felt vindicated that the Donmar production won "Best Musical."  Also, the actor who played Frank said that Sondheim was heavily involved.

What a confusing story!

Anyway, I would assume Sondheim was fully consulted and granted approval of Fiasco's version, because he's clearly been quite involved with this new production. 

Updated On: 1/13/19 at 09:57 PM
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Merrily We Roll Along Previews (2019)#36
Posted: 1/13/19 at 10:49pm

Saw it this afternoon. 

I found it to be pretty all over the place. I don’t mind that they changed/cut/added as much as they did, but none of their ideas really seemed to improve upon the show, or shed new light on it in an interesting way. It kind of felt like they were shouting “look at us! Sondheim gave us permission to change stuff, so here we go!” I do think the show benefits from some of the trimming they’ve done though. Probably my favorite change was the re-imagining of "Now You Know". They’ve cut almost all of the transitional “Merrily” reprises, and replaced them with a variety of other transition styles, some of which are really bizarre and/or silly. They’ve also added a scene from the original Kaufman and Hart play, which is an interesting idea, but again it doesn’t really add much. I understand cutting the overture, as I don’t think it would have meshed well with the rest of the production. But damn that overture is a amazing, and I missed it.

So because the changes didn’t feel grounded in a cohesive concept, they became more of a distraction from the material than a re-interpretation of it. 

Both of the leads struck me as miscast. Ben Steinfeld plays Frank, but he would have made a much better Charlie. Manu Narayan’s Charlie seemed kind of bland and lacking in character to me. In general the cast doubling works well.

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Merrily We Roll Along Previews (2019)#37
Posted: 1/14/19 at 12:56pm
Thoughts on front row seating (center) for how this is staged?
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Merrily We Roll Along Previews (2019)#38
Posted: 1/17/19 at 11:56am

I saw Merrily last night and have to say, as a fan of the show, having seen the Encores version twice, the London production once, and the Boston cast of the London production, I do not think this version does the show any favors.

I think most can agree that Merrily’s scores is one of its best assets. This production has severely cut down the score, even the songs that are left in are shortened and chopped up. To anyone who has never seen this show I implore you to go listen to the Encores cast recording immediately and hear all of what you missed!

Sadly, Merrily without music winds up being a lot of bickering for 1:45. What’s worse is that since the story is cut down it emphasizes the harshness of the early scenes and many plot points seem strange. I don’t think anyone would understand why Mary loves frank in this version or even get the sense that Frank has a son!

The other problem is the cast which is sadly for the most part not up to the challenge. I think Jesse Austrian comes out the best, but in the beginning is playing the part far too harsh. She really shines as the show goes on and has a brilliant bit of costume change/physical comedy. Manu Narayan reads far too old to be playing his 20 year old self, and Ben Steinfeld comes across as a weak link for me, and his acting choices were downright bizarre. Couple that with some really awful transitions as we move backward and the whole thing felt like a college production that I desperately wanted to leave.

I’m very sad that the Boston version didn’t make it in as it was far superior to this. For me the greatest disappointment was that the score was so hacked up. Not A Day Goes by lasted for about 60 seconds, Gussie’s opening number as barely that, and we don’t even get most the interludes that I think are one of Merrily’s most identifiable traits.  All I can say is that I hope this show continues to get produced and that a better version might make it on or off-Broadway some day!

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Merrily We Roll Along Previews (2019)#39
Posted: 1/17/19 at 12:08pm
Theres a lottery for this now through Today Tix btw
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Merrily We Roll Along Previews (2019)#40
Posted: 1/17/19 at 2:09pm

I agree with you. The whole time I was sitting there, thinking that the to men should switch roles! LOVED the WOMEN though.

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Merrily We Roll Along Previews (2019)#41
Posted: 1/17/19 at 2:12pm

Chelsea4044 said: "I agree with you. The whole time I was sitting there, thinking that the two men should switch roles! LOVED the WOMEN though."

 

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Merrily We Roll Along Previews (2019)#42
Posted: 1/17/19 at 2:18pm
Im thinking that with so many shows competing for my seven slots next month, Im going to skip this one. When I see my first production of this, I want it to be a stellar one. Ive been disappointed in the last two musical revivals I saw last June (MFL, OOTI) so hoping for the best for the two revivals (Fiddler, Kiss Me, Kate) I already have tickets for next month. At least one has already rave reviews and has taken a new approach to the material and the other has OHara, Chase and Bleu.
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Merrily We Roll Along Previews (2019)#43
Posted: 1/17/19 at 4:57pm

I have only seen Merrily twice: at the then Alvin Theatre, where I experienced one of the absolute worst evenings in the theatre in my lifetime (admittedly exacerbated by my high expectations going in; and 3X years ago, when I saw it in Boston and absolutely loved it.  It helped that I had become super-familiar with the score in the intervening years (I have always believed  -- with one exception,Follies -- that I personally have enjoyed Sondheim shows much more when I was familiar with the score before seeing ihe show.  

I was disappointed that I was not going to be able to see this due to schedule conflicts, until I read this thread.  It sounds like they don't trust the material (or the audience's attention span) if they are really doing things like cutting Not a Day Goes By to under a minute.  So, having already sat through a bad production of the show, I am no longer disappointed that I am going to be missing this.  

I really don't understand what they were thinking when they elected not to bring in the Friedman version.  It is clear that the material is as tricky as they get; the backward nature of the story requires audience concentration to really get the most from the show, and the Friedman version -- which has not been seen in NYC -- got great critical acclaim.

I did find it interesting that the Roundabout elected to do it Off-Broadway.  I assumed they felt it was high risk, and didn't justify the larger expense associated with a Broadway run, even for a non-profit; however, that logic seems invalid, when you consider the fact that they presented Pacific Overtures (also a big flop in its original run)) and Assassins (which was never going to appeal to a wide audience).  Maybe, they felt pressured to do it, but weren't actually that interested in a signifiant commitment.

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Merrily We Roll Along Previews (2019)#44
Posted: 1/17/19 at 5:36pm

Wait, they even truncated "Not A Day Goes By"??? It's already a short song as it is. 

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Merrily We Roll Along Previews (2019)#45
Posted: 1/17/19 at 5:41pm

@Jarethan:

Regarding Not a Day Goes By: the don't really cut it down, they just do it really fast. She kind of just spews it out without any pauses. But I agree with your overall point. They don't trust the material. In fact, I used that very same phrase when describing it to a friend just yesterday.

Regarding Broadway vs. Off-Broadway: I don't think it was about the risk. I think it has more to do with Fiasco just being an off-Broadway-esque company.

I would have much rather had the Friedman production transfer to NYC, but its not like Roundabout was picking between the two and chose Fiasco. Theyve apparently been developing the production with them for years, and theyve already have a relationship after Into the Woods.

 

(Edited for typos - stupid mobile!) 

Updated On: 1/17/19 at 05:41 PM
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Merrily We Roll Along Previews (2019)#46
Posted: 1/17/19 at 8:22pm

I wasn't going to weigh in, but after reading a lot of these comments I thought my point of view might be interesting to you.  It seems like almost everyone who's posted here has seen the show more than once -- and some of you have seen it many times.  I am not a theater person (came to my first Broadway show at the age of 24), but now I love it and look at every production as a learning experience.  

I never read a program before a show. I don't want to know anything about the actors. I come to watch a story unfold in front of my eyes and ears.  I thought the cast was terrific, but felt unmoved by what I saw.  After the show I asked people sitting around me what they thought. Awkward pauses. ALL of them had seen many productions many times -- so they had the advantage of knowing how the story goes backwards in time, they knew the songs well (I knew some of them), they all had a history with this show.  

it made me think there IS an audience for this production -- people who've seen it before -- and clearly that is quite a lot of people.  I want to love everything I see, but as someone who had never seen it before, I could not recommend it to anyone else who's never seen it before.  I'd be curious to see the original version, despite the dreadful reviews.  The first thing I did when I got home was to look up the original reviews, and after I did I thought not much has changed.  So much work, so much talent on display, such beautiful music.  If you have seen it before and are curious, I'd say by all means, go. 

I'm grateful to read these thoughtful comments -- reading what you all say is another part of theater education for people like me. I always wonder if the producers lurk around these chat boards to find out what's working and what isn't because clearly people who post here love theater.

For this show I wish the producers could have a performance JUST for people who've never seen it before and then ask them about it afterwards. Maybe the producers know the material too well and don't realize that what they've cut in this streamlined version blunts the emotional impact of the original that many of you felt was missing.

 I just know I was unmoved, and that could never have been the intent of anyone connected to this production. 

 

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Merrily We Roll Along Previews (2019)#47
Posted: 1/17/19 at 10:15pm

I'm really surprised and disappointed by the negative comments here.  Obviously tastes differ, but I find this to be the only production since the original that justifies the story going backward.  It's always been the conceit, of course, but IMHO the Lapine version (and its subsequent iterations, some of which I have enjoyed very much) simply starts when it starts and goes back in time without ever explaining why.  By eliminating the high school graduation scene, you never get the sense of why the story matters, what the moral is and why an audience should care.  Noah Brody and Fiasco, in taking this show back to its roots -- and at the same time streamlining and distilling it down to its essence --  have honored the original intent and shown us why the story of the friendship of these three people (and how it fell apart) can ONLY be understood by going backward.  Honestly, I think this production is a must-see for anyone who cares about the show and its place in the Sondheim canon.  

And quibbling about how long it takes the smashing Brittany Bradford to sing "Not a Day Goes By" is missing the point.  It's a heartfelt, beautifully moving rendition.  

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Merrily We Roll Along Previews (2019)#48
Posted: 1/17/19 at 11:04pm

@LucyEth, 

I'd be very curious to hear you elaborate on that. I understand how the qualities you're describing would make for a great production. I just didn't see the those qualities here. HOW did their directorial choices make you feel like the backward structure made more sense? And HOW did they make you care more about their friendship? I'm not saying your opinion is wrong - just the opposite. I want to understand your point better because you seemed to have caught on to something that I just couldn't find. I agree that the show is better with the graduation scene, but that, as you obviously know, is not unique to this production, and it was far from the most audacious this they did. I also agree that trimming it to a more streamlined show can help communicate its message. But again, that's could have been achieved without all of their bells and whistles. So I'm just curious how you felt their radical stylistic approach(es) tied together. 

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Merrily We Roll Along Previews (2019)#49
Posted: 1/18/19 at 12:14am

I saw it tonight (thank you for posting about the lottery! won $30 ticket, it was orchestra left row M. a couple seats in row behind me were empty so maybe also lottery tickets unclaimed? no idea)

i thought the show was okay! i know all the songs but have never seen it performed. it was cool to see because I didn't know about the characters of franklin's wife and gussie and joe. 

i agree mary flynn's costume change was impressive.

i thought it was weird the cast was on stage before the show started?? when the house lights were on?? what was up with that?

also it bothered me they didn't do the OVERTURE! c'mon!

some of the transitions reminded me of the fight (for me) scene from HEATHERS the musical. 

"rich and happy" and "the blob" were fun. also "joe" reminded me of paul f tompkins during the beginning.

Updated On: 1/18/19 at 12:14 AM
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Merrily We Roll Along Previews (2019)#50
Posted: 1/18/19 at 12:17pm

mfaye9 said: "and something is done musically (which I don’t really want to spoil) at the end of Our Time which was absolutely brilliant and probably the best part of the entire production."

Very intriguing! Now I must go and see what they've done. I always fantasize about how *I* would stage this scene if I were a director. It's such a searing number after all the cynicism and heartbreak of what comes before, and the anthem treatment, when the whole cast comes on stage, spoils it for me a bit. I'd rather it stay at a quiet, excited hum, and the scene end in a fadeout with just the three friends together on that rooftop, gazing at the lights of Manhattan.