2017 Was a busy year. I directed Merrily We Roll Along for United Players. I came on board very last minute and had to rush into casting half the cast and production decisions right away. As those who know how difficult this show is at best of times, you can appreciate I believe this cast and production team put on a beautiful product.
In the beginning, Merrily We Roll Along was considered a “problem” play. The original 1981 production closed after only 16 performances on Broadway. Over the years, many attempts were made to fix the musical, to little success. Paths were followed, mistakes were made; but ultimately the highly successful partnership of Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince never recovered from this “failure.”
In Merrily We Roll Along, as in most Sondheim shows, we see real people in situations we can all see ourselves in. These friends could so easily be us. The story reminds us that choices we face are not always black and white - right and wrong are not always so clear. While many musicals tend to moralize and ultimately explain why one decision is clearly better than another, this one does not. Frank is not a bad guy. In reality his biggest mistake is saying “yes” when he really should say “no.” And if we’re all honest about it, how many of us haven’t been in that exact situation?
Ultimately, Merrily We Roll Along is about friendship and the choices we make along the way. By starting the musical at the end and then watching the story unfold in reverse, we see the crushing sadness and tragedy in a much more poignant way. When we finally reach the end of the musical, which is really the beginning of this friendship, we view their hopeful, optimistic outlook on life as a bitter irony.
After many years of rewrites and changes, it’s hard to believe that Merrily We Roll Along was first viewed as a problem play. It has had successful Broadway revivals, toured, and continues to be performed around the world. Perhaps if Sondheim and Prince has the same advantage of seeing their partnership in reverse, they might have made different choices and Merrily might have been a huge hit when it first opened. But in hindsight, maybe they never would have written it at all. We can all be glad that they did, because now we can discuss and enjoy this musical for all that it shows us about ourselves.
It is my pleasure to direct this show with United Players, a company that is committed to bringing the works of Sondheim to the Jericho Arts Centre. Enjoy the show.