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“Merrily We Roll Along” is Nothing Less Than Spectacular as it Returns to Broadway

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By Dennis W

It only took more than forty years but Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along, brought over from the Menier Chocolate Factory production in London, has finally hit its stride rolling along on Broadway and bringing cheering audiences with it. Back in the day, Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s 1981 flop about the lives and relationships of young adults growing up, which spanned 20 years left, audiences confused. The traditional format of a musical was abandoned by its creators, and Merrily in its own unique way, ran itself backward telling the story in reverse. It was a kind of “How did we get here?” but instead of going back to the beginning, it rewinds slowly, just a few years at a time, showing three friends navigating life in reverse. Instead of relationships diminishing, they get stronger and stronger as the friends get younger. It’s quirky but works.

Lindsay Mendez, Jonathan Groff, and Daniel Radcliffe in Merrily We Roll Along. Photo by Mathew Murphy.

The original production in 1981 only played 16 performances after the opening was delayed for weeks. The musical was panned by critics and audiences alike leaving theater seats empty. The book was rewritten (and rewritten) over the decades with Sondheim’s approval until it finally evolved into its current state. Making this reworking, brought to the Hudson Theatre from London’s West End by way of the New York Theatre Workshop, a solid Broadway big-time hit. And those ticket prices and availability reflect that.

Daniel Radcliffe, Jonathan Groff, Reg Rogers, and Krystal Joy Brown in Merrily We Roll Along. Photo by Mathew Murphy.

The Sondheim score is musical champagne and caviar. It’s bubbly and effervescence in “It’s a Hit” and deliciously salty as in “Franklin Shepard, Inc..” It’s a winning Sondheim score that was recognized for its brilliance even when the musical flopped. Direction by Maria Friedman (West End’s High Society, Stepping Out) is open and breezy allowing the characters to easily float through two decades. The stark set and limited costumes by Soutra Gilmour (Broadway’s & Juliet, A Doll’s House) paint just the broadest idea of Frank’s modern Bel Air home which tasks the audience to fill in the blanks when the locations drift from place to place over the previous twenty years.

Merrily We Roll Along begins in 1976 where we find shallow movie producer Frank Shepherd, a once aspiring Broadway composer, played delightfully by Jonathan Groff (Broadway’s Hamilton, Spring Awakening) celebrating his latest success at a party with his Hollywood entourage. He’s abandoned his friends from the early years of his career to become a successful, A-list producer. He has everything he’s wanted but Frank is anything but happy as he appears to merrily roll along. Groff embraces the self-indulgent, self-centered Frank always sidestepping the rough patches in life even when he’s in the middle of one. Groff plays against type and is more than up to the challenge.

A friend from the old days who is still along for the ride is gal-pal Mary Flynn played longingly by Lindsay Mendez (Broadway’s Carousel) She cannot get past her love for Frank and has been not so patiently waiting in the wings for him to notice her. The once aspiring novelist turned critic soaks her remorse in alcohol and finally at Frank’s celebration bash an intoxicated Mary deep-sixes their relationship but, in the end, she is still wanting and waiting for him to love her. Mendez gives a touching and believable performance as we see the jaded critic transform into a successful novelist.

Daniel Radcliffe, Jonathan Groff, and Natalie Wachen in Merrily We Roll Along. Photo by Mathew Murphy.

Filling out the trio is Daniel Radcliffe (Broadway’s How to Succeed in Business..; Old Vic’s Endgame) and his Charley Kringas. Radcliffe shows his wonderful range in the part with some physical slapstick comedy along with delivering the piercing “Franklin Shepard, Inc.” as Frank sits by staring into space writing off his one-time collaborator. The three principals take us on a wild and miraculous journey as we watch their disparate lives slowly become more and more entwined as we retrace their steps to those rooftop days of hope, optimism and what seemed like a lifelong bond.

Merrily We Roll Along is a lot like the plot of a Broadway musical “How do you turn a flop into a hit?” After twenty years of people not giving up on the show, all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle have finally come together. The book still isn’t perfect but it works and the Sondheim score is nothing less than spectacular. Plus, the combination of the three talented principals, who bring their captivating characters fully to life, finally rolls this magnificent musical merrily along all together.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Broadway

The Heart of Rock and Roll Meets The Press And Huey Lewis Sings For Me

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Yesterday morning The Heart of Rock and Roll, the new musical based on the soundtrack of Heuy Lewis’s mega hits, met the press corp. In the opening address’s I learned that Heuy Lewis, is now deaf.  In learning that, I wanted to know what soundtrack was now playing in his head. In getting to interview Mr. Lewis I was allowed one question and when I asked, not only did I learned the answer, I was sung to. 

For this video, we started off with that interaction and segue into what happened earlier. With director Gordon Greenberg, introducing John Dossett, McKenzie Kurtz and the cast Josh Breckenridge, F. Michael Haynie, Zoe Jensen, Tamika Lawrence, Raymond J. Lee, John-Michael Lyles, Orville Mendoza, Billy Harrigan Tighe, Mike Baerga, Tommy Bracco, TyNia René Brandon, Olivia Cece, Taylor Marie Daniel, Lindsay Joan, Ross Lekites, Robin Masella, Kara Menendez, Joe Moeller, Jennifer Noble, Fredric Rodriguez Odgaard, Michael Olaribigbe, Kevin Pariseau, Robert Pendilla and Leah Read singing the title song The Heart of Rock and Roll. 

The music supervision, arrangements, and orchestrations by Brian Usifer, musical direction by Will Van Dyke, and the innovative choreography by Lorin Latarro really stood out.

We then in this video interview director Gordon Greenberg, to learn more about what looks to be one fabulous show.

More tomorrow with Corey Cott and the cast and creatives.

The Heart of Rock and Roll, the new musical inspired by the iconic songs of Huey Lewis and The News, will open on Broadway at The James Earl Jones Theatre (138 W 48th St, New York, NY 10036) on Monday, April 22, 2024.

Video and picture by Magda Katz

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Maria Friedman Wow’d in Legacy For Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS

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Last night was a night to remember, when three-time Olivier-winning actor Maria Friedman, gave a one-night-only benefit concert at the Hudson Theatre. The concert served as a benefit for Broadway Cares, The Stephen Sondheim Foundation, and The Marvin Hamlisch International Music Awards. Friedman is currently represented at that theatre as the director of the current revival of Merrily We Roll Along.

This was the kind of night you pray about. It was an exquisite pleasure watching someone who understands lyric, musicality and how to keep an audience in the palm of their hand. The performance, titled Legacy: An Evening With Maria Friedman and Friends, focused on the works of Stephen Sondheim, Marvin Hamlisch, and Michel Legrand, as Ms Friedman personally and professional had close relationships with all three artists. Craig Horsley will be writing a review of this outstanding musical night of nirvana.

As I watch enrapt in this performance I remembered six years ago I interviewed Ms. Friedman and saw her sing the definitive “Losing My Mind” from Follies, prior to last night, so I went in search of this. We discussed her show which was about to play at 54 Below, which had played a sold-out London run earlier that year. The show explored the work of composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim and composer Leonard Bernstein. We also talked about her staging of the U.S. premiere of her acclaimed 2012 London revival of Merrily We Roll Along which was currently at the Huntington in Boston, MA starring Eden Espinoza, Damian Humbley and Mark Umbers and a production of Bernstein’s Mass which she had hoped was coming soon.

Friedman made her Broadway debut in 2005 starring in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Woman in White, but she’s spent the majority of her stage career in London’s West End. Among her major roles there was Dot in the first London Sunday in the Park With George, Mary in Merrily We Roll Along, Fosca in Passion (Olivier Award), Sukie in The Witches of Eastwick, Roxie in Chicago, Mother in Ragtime (Olivier Award), Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, and Golde in Fiddler on the Roof. She also played the Narrator in the screen version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Mother Abbess in the U.K.’s The Sound of Music Live!

Thank-you Ms Friedman for a night that will long stand in my memory.

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Ken Fallin’s Broadway: Sarah Paulson in Appropriate

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Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Appropriate not only got a second extension, but transferred  theatre. Slated to close March 3 at the Hayes Theater, Appropriate will now play a 13-week engagement at the Belasco Theatre, with performances beginning March 25. The strictly limited run will continue through June 23. The reason for the transfer was Paula Vogel’s Mother Play, was already slated to perform.

To read T2C’s review of Appropriate  click here and here.

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Broadway To Honor Hinton Battle

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Broadway will honor the memory of Hinton Battle, the three-time Tony Award-winning singer/ actor/ phenomenal dancer who was trailblazing. Mr. Battle passed away on January 30, 2024, at the age of 67. On March 12, 2024, the Committee of Theatre Owners will dim all the lights of all the Broadway theatres in New York for one minute at exactly 6:45pm, in his honor.Hinton Battle won three Tony’s and made his Broadway debut at 18,  playing the original Scarecrow in The Wiz.

You can see our tribute here. He was one of the great ones.

 

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Theatre News: Here We Are, Water For Elephants, Tuesdays with Morrie, The Tempest: A Surround Sound Odyssey, FIVE: The Parody Musical, Forbidden Broadway

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Producers Tom Kirdahy, Sue Wagner, John Johnson, and The Stephen Sondheim Trust announced today that the critically acclaimed world premiere production of Here We Are, the new musical from David Ives and Stephen Sondheim that debuted at The Shed’s Griffin Theater in 2023, was filmed by the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive (TOFT) at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and added to its collection. The complete show was filmed by TOFT in December of 2023 and is now available and free to view by anyone with a library card.

 Here We Are is directed by two-time Tony Award winner Joe Mantello, and features Francois Battiste, Tracie Bennett, Bobby Cannavale, Micaela Diamond, Amber Gray, Jin Ha, Rachel Bay Jones, Denis O’Hare, Steven Pasquale, David Hyde Pierce, and Jeremy Shamos.

The musical features a book by Tony Award nominee David Ives, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and is inspired by two films, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Exterminating Angel, by Luis Buñuel.

Here We Are opened on October 22, 2023 at The Shed and performed its final show on January 21, 2024.

Water For Elephants is announcing their Tent Talkback Series with members of the creative team following selected Saturday matinees between March 2 through April 6, at the Imperial Theatre (249 West 45th Street).  Creative team members will include book writer Rick Elice and composers and lyricists PigPen Theatre Co.  The Water For Elephants Tent Talkback Series will be a moderated 15-minute discussion about the creative process and development of the show and commence at the conclusion of selected Saturday matinee performances.

Tent Talkback Series Schedule

Saturday, March 2, matinee performance

Saturday, March 9, matinee performance

Saturday, March 30, matinee performance

Saturday, April 6, matinee performance

Water For Elephants is based on the critically acclaimed and New York Times Bestselling novel by Sara Gruen. The new musical has a book by three-time Tony Award nominee Rick Elice (Jersey Boys, Peter and the Starcatcher), a soaring score by the acclaimed PigPen Theatre Co. (The Tale of Despereaux) and is directed by Tony Award nominee Jessica Stone (Kimberly Akimbo).

The cast stars Grant Gustin (“The Flash”, “Glee”) in his Broadway debut, Isabelle McCalla (The Prom, Shucked), four-time Tony Award nominee Gregg Edelman (City of Angels), Drama Desk and Outer Critic Circle Award nominee Paul Alexander Nolan (Slave Play), Stan Brown (“Homicide: Life in the Streets”), Joe De Paul (Cirque du Soleil’s Dralion), Sara Gettelfinger (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and Wade McCollum(Wicked) and features Brandon Block, Antoine Boissereau, Rachael Boyd, Paul Castree, Ken Wulf Clark, Taylor Colleton, Gabriel Olivera de Paula Costa, Isabella Luisa Diaz, Samantha Gershman, Keaton Hentoff-Killian, Nicolas Jelmoni, Caroline Kane, Harley Ross Beckwith McLeish, Michael Mendez, Samuel Renaud, Marissa Rosen, Alexandra Gaelle Royer, Asa Somers, Charles South, Sean Stack, Matthew Varvar and Michelle West.

After losing what matters most, a young man jumps a moving train unsure of where the road will take him and finds a new home with the remarkable crew of a traveling circus, and a life—and love—beyond his wildest dreams. Seen through the eyes of his older self, his adventure becomes a poignant reminder that if you choose the ride, life can begin again at any age.

The award-winning Sea Dog Theater’s production of Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie, by Jeffrey Hatcher and Mitch Albom, based on the book by Albom, directed by Erwin Maas (NY Times Critic’s Pick for Poison and A Kid Like Rishi), starring Tony Award winner and Emmy nominee Len Cariou (Sweeney Todd original cast, CBS’s “Blue Bloods”) and three-time NYIT “Best Actor” nominee Chris Domig.Tuesdays with Morrie runs March 1 – 23 in a limited engagement at St. George’s Episcopal Church (209 East 16 St.) Opening night is March 7.Two post-show talkbacks are scheduled during the run. On Monday, March 4, Len Cariou and Judy Kaye will discuss working with Stephen Sondheim. On Monday, March 18, Len and Abigail Hawk will discuss working on CBS’s “Blue Bloods.”Tuesdays with Morrie is the humorous and poignant story of career-obsessed journalist Mitch Albom, who sixteen years after graduation serendipitously learns that his former sociology professor Morrie is battling Lou Gehrig’s Disease. What starts as a simple visit, turns into a weekly pilgrimage and the last class in the meaning of life.Featuring vocalist Sally Shaw. Original music written and performed on piano by Chris Domig.

The Perelman Performing Arts Center (PAC NYC, Executive Director Khady Kamara Nunez and Artistic Director Bill Rauch) announces complete casting and creative team for An American Soldier at the new performing arts center at the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan.  An American Soldier will premiere in New York during AANHPI Heritage Month with performances starting May 12 through May 19, 2024.

An American Soldier will feature principal cast members Hannah Cho, Alex DeSocio, Nina Yoshida Nelsen and Brian Vu. Ensemble members include Ben Brady, Cierra Byrd, James C. Harris, Shelén Hughes, Joshua Sanders, Christian Simmons and understudies, Misoon Ghim, Luke Harnish and Angela Yam. Photos of the company are available here.

An American Soldier features scenic design by Daniel Ostling, costume design by Linda Cho, lighting design by Jeanette Yew and multi-media design by Nick Hussong, joining the previously announced creative team members Huang Ruo (composer), David Henry Hwang (libretto), Carolyn Kuan (conductor), and Chay Yew (director).

On October 3, 2011, Chinese-American Army Pvt. Danny Chen was found dead in a guard tower at his base in Afghanistan. Based on his story and the ensuing courts-martial of Chen’s fellow soldiers, this New York City premiere opera tells the powerful true story of a young soldier from Manhattan’s Chinatown who sought to serve his country, only to find his biggest threat was the very people who swore to protect him.

Told through the multidimensional music of Huang Ruo (M. Butterfly, Book of Mountains and Seas) with libretto by Tony and Grammy winner David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly, Soft Power), and directed by Obie Award winner Chay Yew (Cambodian Rock Band, Sweatshop Overlord), An American Soldier is a powerful and unforgettable experience.

Due to popular demand, Knock at the Gate producers Joseph Discher and Sean Hudock announced a two-week extension of their audio immersive streaming production of The Tempest: A Surround Sound Odyssey, now available to stream virtually through Saturday, March 16.

Tickets for the stream are $9.99 and are available for purchase at KnockattheGate.com. The broadcast is available worldwide on all internet connected devices with a dimmable screen and a pair of headphones. Audiences will receive a link and password to access the listening portal prior to the broadcast.

The cast includes Hale Appleman (SyFy’s “The Magicians,” FX’s “American Horror Story”) as ‘Ariel,’ Tony® and Grammy® Award nominee Emily Skeggs (Broadway’s Fun Home) as ‘Miranda,’ Joel de la Fuente (Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle) as ‘Prospero,’ and Derek Wilson (Amazon’s “Gen V,” Hulu’s “Future Man”) as ‘Caliban.’ Rounding out the cast are Michael Daly, Sean Hudock, Greg Jackson, Maurice Jones, Raphael Nash Thomspon, Shane Taylor, Patrick Toon.

Due to popular demand, producers of FIVE: The Parody Musical have put a new block of tickets on sale through April 21. The world-premiere production, initially announced as a limited four-week engagement, will now play an additional 6 weeks Off-Broadway at Theater 555 (555 W 42nd St, NYC). For tickets and further information, visit www.FiveTheMusical.com.

Look out SIX, here comes FIVE: The Parody Musical. Henry VIII and his six wives had nothing on Donald, the 45th, and these five ladies. Poised to make America laugh again, FIVE is an 80-minute, irreverent musical comedy revue starring some of the women in the life of America’s past President. Ivana, Marla, and Melania are joined by crowd favorite Stormy and daddy’s girl Ivanka as they each take the spotlight and sing their hearts out for your vote.

Presented by Five Musical LLC, FIVE: The Parody Musical features a book and lyrics by Shimmy Braun & Moshiel Newman Daphna, music and lyrics by Billy Recce (A Musical About Star Wars, Little Black Book), and direction and choreography by Jen Wineman (Dog Man: The Musical, F#%king Up Everything).

FIVE: The Parody Musical features Anyae Anasia as Ivana, Gabriella Joy Rodriguez (The Color Purple Tour) as Marla, Jaime Lyn Beatty (Stranger Sings! The Parody Musical, Starkid Founding Member) as Melania, Gabi Garcia as Stormy, and Hannah Bonnett (Legally Blonde National Tour) as Ivanka, with a special appearance by drag legend Jasmine Rice LaBeija as Hillary Clinton.

Forbidden Broadway will open on Broadway titled Forbidden Broadway on Broadway: Merrily We Stole a Song. It will begin previews on July 29 and open August 15 at the Hayes Theater. Creator Gerard Alessandrini, a Tony honoree for the musical’s Off-Broadway stagings, will direct the Broadway production and it will play a limited run through November 1.The musical revue will feature a five-person cast, who will be joined weekly by guest stars. The production will parody Back to the Future, Company, The Great Gatsby, Hell’s Kitchen, Into the Woods, Merrily We Roll Along, The Notebook, Sweeney Todd and Water for Elephants. Forbidden Broadway on Broadway is produced by Broadway & Beyond Theatricals (Ryan Bogner, Victoria Lang and Tracey Stroock McFarland) in association with John Freedson and Harriet Yellin.”

 

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