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MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG Shea's Smith Theatre/Second Generation Theatre
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May 1, 2024, 14:13
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Through May 12
MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG Shea’s Smith Theatre/Second Generation Theatre

By Augustine Warner

If there are any characteristics of “Merrily We Roll Along,” they are that the show doesn’t roll and isn’t merry.
In 1981, this was expected to be a big Broadway hit because it came from the team of Harold Prince directing a George Furth book and words and music from Stephen Sondheim, all from a Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman play.
It crashed and burned and probably cost a lot of people a lot of money.
Since then, people have been tinkering with the show and there is a successful reworking on stage on Broadway, right now.
Locally, we have a fine production on stage in the Theatre District, from Second Generation.
It’s an interesting mix of Sondheim’s chilly music and Hart and Kaufman’s evisceration of the Hollywood price of success.
It mixes in those reverse time sequences, like Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal”, staged across the street earlier this season by the Irish Classical Theatre Company.
Here, time flows backward from 1976 to 1957.
The basic premise is the legendary ability of Hollywood glory and success to turn people into miserable human beings, going (as here) from a friendly team member building something wonderful into someone facing a bad decision at his or her Last Judgment.
As the show opens, Franklin Shepard (Josh Wilde) is celebrating his new movie.
He’s shadowed by figures from his past, his former writing partner Charley Kringas (Jordan Levin), along with their close aide and writer Mary Flynn (Alexandria Watts) and his first wife, Beth (Maria Pedro).
Now, Gussie Carnegie (Kelly Copps), his second wife, who cut Beth out of the first marriage, is being cut out of the second marriage by the star of the new movie, Meg (Sofia Matlasz).
On the other end of the timeline, Frank, Charley and Mary are sitting on a roof along 110th Street, talking of their dreams and watching the first Sputnik fly high overhead and singing “Our Time.”
Frank and Charlie are good at what they want to do on stage and Mary winds up turning out a hit book.
They work their way up, including a wonderful revue from 1960 about the Kennedys in a small theater in Greenwich Village, with Frank’s about-to-be in-laws watching disagreeably.
The best song in the scene is “Not A Day Goes By,” kind of the running song of the entire show, threaded through it all and performed by different characters.
Since the show starts in the depths of human bad behavior, it’s obvious where it’s going.
I’m not a Sondheim fan and I know the critical opinion in the beginning was bad, but this version is very good.
Sondheim never lived to see “Merrily” as a hit on the Great White Way.
The core team of director Michael Gilbert-Wachowiak and choreographer Michael Deeb Weaver clearly worked well together and the show clicks consistently.
Possibly, that’s because the show is cast so well, particularly Wilde and Copps, along with Watts’ Mary.
They have also cast well in the smaller parts, especially Louis Colaiacovo as Broadway producer Joe Josephson and Kris Bartolomeo as Jerome the lawyer and other parts.
Set Designer Chris Cavanagh has a backdrop set which really doesn’t change, leaving the action to take place in front of it.
The Smith is a relatively small venue, with customers and performers close together, allowing the audience to see what’s going on, which is not always possible on the two other Shea’s stages.
“Merrily We Roll Along” is so good you should be in one of those close-by seats.

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