Theater Review: 'Merrily We Roll Along' -- 4 stars
Merrily We Roll Along
Thirty years ago, "Merrily We Roll Along," Stephen Sondheim's musical that moves backward in time from 1976 to 1957 and observes how a strong three-way friendship falls apart, crashed and burned in its Broadway debut.
But even if the original production was problematic and the show's plot is unusual and often sad, the show contains many of Sondheim's most heartfelt and exquisitely crafted songs.
James Lapine, who became Sondheim's new collaborator after the "Merrily" debacle, directed a revised version of the musical in 1985 that has since been done at countless regional theaters. This version, again directed by Lapine, is now receiving a triumphant, absolutely exhilarating revival as part of City Center's Encores! series.
As the show begins, Franklin Shepard (Colin O'Donnell) is a former composer turned film producer and his longtime pal Mary Flynn (Celia Keenan-Bolger) is a best-selling author turned sarcastic alcoholic. Frank is no longer on speaking terms with his former songwriting partner Charley Kringas (Lin-Manuel Miranda), who refused to condone Frank's relentless pursuit of financial success.
Scene by scene, we travel chronologically backward and watch what led to the dissolution of Frank's marriage and friendship with Charles. Eventually, Frank evolves back into an innocent, idealistic youth who believes that his songs can change the world. "Our Time," the show's anthem of hope at the end of Act 2, is ironically devastating given our knowledge of what lies ahead in Frank's future.
O'Donnell, who recently starred as Billy in "Anything Goes," makes a credible transition from hollow Hollywood hack to starry-eyed dreamer.
Miranda, best known as the creator of the musical "In the Heights," is still adjusting to the difficult score, but manages to pull through.
If you go: "Merrily We Roll Along" plays at City Center through Feb. 19. 130 W. 56th St., 212-581-1212, citycenter.org.