Review: Encores! Merrily We Roll Along

James Lapine is lured in by the femme fatale of musicals, beautiful and damaged.

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  • Photograph: Joan Marcus

    Merrily We Roll Along

    Merrily We Roll Along at New York City Center

  • Photograph: Joan Marcus

    Merrily We Roll Along

    Merrily We Roll Along at New York City Center

  • Photograph: Joan Marcus

    Merrily We Roll Along

    Merrily We Roll Along at New York City Center

  • Photograph: Joan Marcus

    Merrily We Roll Along

    Merrily We Roll Along at New York City Center

Photograph: Joan Marcus

Merrily We Roll Along

Merrily We Roll Along at New York City Center

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

Time's arrow flies backward, piercing the tender flesh of youth, in the 1981 Sondheim-Furth cult musical Merrily We Roll Along, which has now been rejuvenated by the Encores! concert series. A companion piece to Follies, with which it shares a signal line—"Never look back," an imperative pointedly ignored by the show—Merrily is structured in reverse. When we first meet Franklin (the Jon Hamm--y Donnell), he is stuck in what we are meant to understand is an empty life as a Hollywood producer; successive scenes retrace the twisting paths on which his ideals have gotten lost, along with his old friendships with Charley (Miranda, believably smart) and Mary (Keenan-Bolger, touching as always but miscast).

Sondheim's gorgeous score, which contains some of his most excerptible songs, is ineluctably yoked to Furth's troubled book. This production, directed and adapted by James Lapine, is the latest attempt to save Merrily from itself, and its clever video montages go a long way toward addressing some of the show's expositional challenges. But Lapine can't fix the musical's less formal problems: the pinched negativity of the characters and the smallness of the stakes they squabble about. (A key change to the book at the end exacerbates these flaws.) Elizabeth Stanley makes a strong impression as Frank's second wife, Gussie, but her expanded role is ungainly and maliciously written. If Merrily amply fulfills its mandate as an Encores! project, it remains unsolved as a musical-theater puzzler. Will any version rise to the level of Sondheim's score? We can only look forward, and hope.

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New York City Center. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by George Furth. Dir. James Lapine. With Colin Donnell, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Elizabeth Stanley. 2hrs 30mins. One intermission. See complete event information.

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