Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Rich and Happy

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Rich and Happy

Article excerpt

Rich and happy

New Encores! recording of Merrily is a worthy addition

If Merrily We Roll Along was not one of Stephen Sondheim's most successful shows in its original Broadway run, it has one of the most passionate fan bases of any of his musicals. Abigail Pogrebin, a member of the 1981 production, recalls in her recent memoir Showstopper (Amazon Kindle Single) that after the cast began to wear T-shirts with labels naming their relationship to main character Franklin Shepard, "Merrily groupies at the stage door showed up in sweatshirts reading, 'The Audience'." A onenight reunion of the original cast in September 2002 drew a sold-out crowd to New York's LaGuardia High School, and the Encores! February 2012 presentation was one of New York's hottest theatre tickets. PS Classics' recording of the Encores! concert production preserves the show's many considerable strengths and weaknesses.

Breaking from protocol, Encores! did not present the original Broadway version of Merrily's and score, but rather what director Lapine called the definitive version culled from revised productions in La Jolla, Calif., (1985), Leicester, England (1990) and the York Theatre's off-Broadway production (1994). For fans of the original Broadway cast recording, the primary differences are the absence of the bookending graduation scenes (losing "The Hills of Tomorrow"), "That Frank" replacing "Rich and Happy," a new song for Frank and Gussie, "Growing Up," as well as largely different lyrics for the verses in "Now You Know."

Clocking in at 89 minutes, the two-disc album incorporates a good portion of the dialogue, which unfortunately reinforces the flaws in George Furth's script. The pivotal, life-altering decisions these characters make throughout both acts are, too often, announced in stagy, expository language (Gussie: "I sent the driver back to take my things to a hotel." Frank: "Gussie, you can't do that! We've already destroyed one marriage. I could never live with you leaving Joe for me."), too rarely acted out. In his 1991 book Not Since Carrie, Ken Mandelbaum wrote that Furth's libretto "contains too much arch dialogue; no one talks quite the way the characters in Merrily too often do." Sondheim has frequently said he attempts to make sure his lyrics match the libretto of the show he is working on; Merrily We Roll Along might have been more successful had Furth matched his dialogue to the quality of Sondheim's lyrics. …

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