“Merrily We Roll Along” Gets the Second Chance It Deserves


Image Courtesy of Playbill.com

By Tiffani Stitz

The revival of the 1981 Tony Award-Winning Musical Merrily We Roll Along will open on Broadway on October 10 of this year at the Hudson Theater in New York City. 

Merrily We Roll Along follows the life of Franklin Shepard, a talented composer,  and his two friends. The plot shows us how their lives and friendships change over a reversed chronological timeline of 20 years.

The current production includes many famous actors such as Daniel Radcliffe (playing Charley Kringas), Lindsay Mendez (playing Mary Flynn), and Jonathan Groff (playing Franklin Shepard). Since its sold-out off-Broadway run this past January, this has been one of the most highly anticipated openings of the 2023 Broadway season. 

The original production of Merrily We Roll Along, directed by Hal Prince and choreographed by Larry Fuller in 1981, had a short run of 52 preview performances and 16 performances. The music and lyrics of the show, created by Stephen Sondheim, won the 1981 Tony Award for Best Original Score. The creative team of this revival includes Maria Friedman as the director, and Tim Jackson as the choreographer and orchestrations by Johnathan Tunick.  

Many people were surprised that this show was going to get another chance of survival on Broadway after it flopped due to the plot’s inability to captivate audiences in the previous attempt. Theater critics, however, have been very pleased with this new take in the revival of the show, and are glad to see Merrily We Roll Along get the recognition it deserves. 

While this show has many plot issues and creates a very confusing timeline for the audience, critics believe that this revival production of Merrily We Roll Along has reached its most coherent version yet. 

Jesse Green, a theater critic at The New York Times, addresses some of these concerns and believes that many major problems (such as the incoherence of the storyline  from the 1981 version) have been fixed the best they could.

“It’s therefore no small thing to say that in her effort to drag a half-living thing like ‘Merrily’ to full life, Friedman is more than halfway there. Maybe, finally, it’s a hit,” Green said.

Peter Marks, a theater critic at The Washington Post, is also very pleased with this production and reflects on Sondheim and Furth’s contributions. 

“If only Sondheim and Furth (not to mention Kaufman and Hart) could have lived to have seen how their collective handiwork has been so expertly and tenderly refined,” Marks said.

The star-studded cast of this production is also responsible for giving this musical a new and redefined meaning. These actors have found a unique way to incorporate their own perspective on these characters, which adds the nuance and purpose this musical lacked in 1981. 

“The blessed contributions of Groff, Mendez, and Radcliffe — in addition to Krystal Joy Brown, Katie Rose Clarke, and Reg Rogers in crucial supporting roles — coalesce in a way that feels almost spiritual,” Marks said.The Merrily We Roll Along Revival has already extended its run to March 2024, due to its immense popularity. This story has finally been able to develop to its fullest potential, and while some of its original issues still linger, the creative team and cast have found a unique way to tell this story that did not get a chance to be shared in 1981.

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