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Merrily We Roll Along

  • Theater, Musicals
  • Hudson Theatre, Midtown West
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Daniel Radcliffe, Jonathan Groff and Lindsay Mendez in Merrily We Roll Along
Photograph: Courtesy Joan MarcusMerrily We Roll Along

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

Broadway review by Adam Feldman 

Merrily We Roll Along is the femme fatale of Stephen Sondheim musicals, beautiful and troubled; people keep thinking they can fix it, rescue it, save it from itself and make it their own. In the decades since its disastrous 1981 premiere on Broadway, where it lasted just two weeks, the show has been revised and revived many times (including by the York in 1994, Encores! in 2012 and Fiasco in 2019). The challenges of Merrily are built into its core in a way that no production can fully overcome. But director Maria Friedman’s revival does a superb job—the best I’ve ever seen—of overlooking them, the way one might forgive the foibles of an old friend.  

As a showbiz-steeped investigation of the disillusionment that may accompany adulthood, Merrily is a companion piece to Sondheim’s Follies, with which it shares a key line: “Never look back,” an imperative this show pointedly ignores. Adapted by George Furth from a play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, the musical is structured in reverse. We first meet Franklin Shepard (Jonathan Groff) in 1976, when he is a former composer now leading a hollow life as a producer of Hollywood schlock; successive scenes move backward through the twisting paths on which he has lost both his ideals and his erstwhile best pals, playwright Charley (Daniel Radcliffe) and writer Mary (Lindsay Mendez). The final scene—chronologically, the first—finds them together on a rooftop in 1957, as yet regardless of their doom, singing “Our Time” as they stare up at a sky of endless possibilities. 

It’s an inherently poignant story, but although Sondheim’s virtuosic score is also among his most immediately accessible, this is a show that benefits from knowing it in advance. We meet the three friends at their worst—when Frank is a philandering sell-out, Charley is mired in bitterness and Mary is a mean, hopeless drunk—and must invest in them on faith. That’s one reason Friedman’s version works so well: She has trained her eye on just the right stars. Groff, Radcliffe and Mendez are so appealing as performers that they moot the pinched negativity of their characters’ first appearances. All three deliver exceptional work. 

Merrily We Roll Along | Photograph: Joan Marcus

As the story moves backward, Groff’s pallid Frank begins to glow with excitement and sincerity; he makes you feel how much Frank loves writing music, and what a self-betrayal his abandonment of it represents. Radcliffe, bright-eyed and tightly wound, is a ball of clenched energy that explodes to great effect in the unhinged talk-show meltdown number “Franklin Shepard, Inc.” And Mendez’s funny, lovable Mary is gorgeously sung and brilliantly worked out: Her movement elucidates the lyrics without indicating, and Mary’s unrequited yearning for Frank has perhaps never been plainer or more affecting. The major supporting roles are also well served: Katie Rose Clarke is heartbreaking and funny as Frank’s gangly first wife, and Krystal Joy Brown brings dignity to the rather cruelly written part of his second; Reg Rogers shambles entertainingly as a Broadway producer. Soutra Gilmour’s set and costumes help keep the timeline tidy, and the ensemble cast articulates Sondheim’s lyrics with crystalline clarity. 

This is a show that makes demands of its audience, perhaps sometimes unreasonable ones. But as Charley sings during a loving argument with his friends: “What’s the point of demands you can meet?” Friedman’s production meets the audience halfway, and a Broadway audience today just might be able to make up the difference as it couldn’t in 1981. Cross your fingers: It might finally be Merrily’s time. 

Merrily We Roll Along. Hudson Theatre (Broadway). Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by George Furth. Directed by Maria Friedman. With Jonathan Groff, Daniel Radcliffe, Lindsay Mendez, Krystal Joy Brown, Katie Rose Clarke, Reg Rogers. Running time: 2hrs 40mins. One intermission.

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Merrily We Roll Along | Photograph: Joan Marcus

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman


Hudson Theatre
141 W 44th St
New York
Cross street:
at Broadway
Subway: N, Q, R, 42nd St S, 1, 2, 3, 7 to 42nd St–Times Sq

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