Musical Theater Works has an exciting event in the works: The organization is planning a Merrily We Roll Along benefit reunion concert to take place on September 30. The choice of program seems fitting as MTW's artistic director is Lonny Price, who originated the role of Charley Kringas in the Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical. Based on Kaufman & Hart's play of the same title, Merrily tells the reverse-chronology story of three friends who begin as idealistic young artists but turn into miserable, middle-aged sell-outs and/or has-beens.
The concert is expected to feature most members of the original cast, all of whom were in their teens and twenties at the time of the 1981 Broadway production. The best-known Merrily alumnus is undoubtedly Jason Alexander, who played producer Joe Josephson in the show years before co-starring in TV's Seinfeld. Other cast members, such as Jim Walton, Tonya Pinkins, Liz Callaway, and Daisy Prince, have gone on to successful careers in the theater. In his November 28, 2001 column, TheaterMania's Peter Filichia detailed what the Merrily company members have been up to since the show closed and expressed his longing for a reunion concert. The September 30 event will take place in the auditorium of LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, located at 100 Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan (near Lincoln Center); for ticket information, phone 212-677-0040, ext. 312.
Though Merrily lasted only 16 performances on Broadway, it became a cult favorite thanks to an RCA cast album that well preserves Sondheim's wonderful score. Hearing it, one might be puzzled by the show's short life; but, though the youthful cast sounds great, some critics and theatergoers felt they were too green to credibly play their characters' older selves. In a recent speech to the 2002 graduating class at NYU, Merrily director Hal Prince suggested that audiences were embarrassed by the idealism of the musical's characters but also admitted responsibility for the "aesthetic" problems of what many considered an underproduced show. Sondheim and Furth have spent years revising the score and the book in hopes of finally making Merrily work as a narrative.
These issues don't really apply to a concert presentation, so MTW's Merrily We Roll Along may turn out to be the best yet. Of course, Christopher Ashley will take a shot at the show first when he directs Michael Hayden, Raul Esparza, Miriam Shor, and others in a fully staged production that will open in July as part of the Sondheim Celebration at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.