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“Merrily We Roll Along” and its long road back to Broadway

At the Hudson Theatre on Broadway, three friends are playing three friends, in a revival of “Merrily We Roll Along,” with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

Jonathan Groff, who drew raves as King George III in “Hamilton,” plays composer Franklin Shepard: “He goes from being a super-excited young composer into a marriage, has a child, has a divorce, gets married again, fools around a little bit.”

Daniel Radcliffe, Jonathan Groff and Lindsay Mendez in the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along.” 

CBS News

Lindsay Mendez, who won a Tony in 2018 for her role in a revival of “Carousel,” is writer Mary Flynn, who has problems – like, being in love with Frank, and drinking too much. “Yeah, yeah, I think those things are a bit related!” Mendez laughed. “Yeah, she’s got a bit of unrequited love for him.” 

When asked the most challenging part of playing the role,” she replied, “I think it’s just the pain of her, and of someone who isn’t getting what they want, or maybe isn’t even sure of what they want.”

The third member of this trio is recognizable from his days as Harry Potter. But Daniel Radcliffe has become an established Broadway star, in revivals of shows like “Equus” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”  In “Merrily We Roll Along,” he plays Charley Kringas, whose friendship with Frank faces serious challenges.

When Radcliffe was asked, having grown up England, if he felt about Sondheim the way American theater-lovers do, he replied, “My parents met doing musical theater, so I was like listening to a bunch of Sondheim growing up and other, like, showtunes. I thought everyone listened to showtunes in the car, I thought that was road trip music. Apparently not everybody! So, yeah, I grew up not quite as, like, steeped in it as these guys are, but loving it as well.”

Jonathan Groff, Daniel Radcliffe and Lindsay Mendez.

CBS News

The story of creating “Merrily We Roll Along,” whose narrative moved backwards in time from the 1970s to the 1950s, is a drama in itself. Fresh from a string of hits, Sondheim and director Hal Prince decided to do a musical update of a 1934 play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. But when “Merrily” opened in 1981, most critics savaged it.  The musical closed after only 16 performances.

Still, working with writer George Furth, Sondheim would not give up on the show. “He’s not somebody who believes you have to do it one way,” said Maria Friedman, director of the Broadway revival. She’s also a well-known British actor who developed a close friendship with Sondheim. [She played Mary in an early ’90s British production of “Merrily,” where Sondheim was fine-tuning the show.] “[He], I think with caution, took us outside of London because, as we all know, he had been pretty burnt,” she said. 

That version opened in Leicester, England, just one of many places where the show would play to praise, over the years becoming one of Sondheim’s best-loved musicals. In fact, Friedman directed a successful version in London in 2012. But “Merrily We Roll Along” has never been back on Broadway, until now.

And Radcliffe said he thinks this production will capture what Sondheim was really hoping the play would be: “He’s going to be considered like Shakespeare. I think it’s going to be sort of locked in amber in a way, and people are not going to want to mess around with it or play around with it too much.”  

Friedman was in close consultation with Sondheim about this production just before his death in 2021. When asked what it means to her to bring his show back to Broadway, she replied, “Don’t make me cry. I wish he was here. I wish he was here to see it.  Because I did it for him … I feel him in the auditorium. And he’s keeping me on my toes, and I wish to goodness he was here.”

And as for the three friends playing three friends, Groff said, “Someone told me yesterday that this show reeks of friendship, that it’s like a wave coming off the stage. And it makes sense because that’s what we feel like while we do it.”

And yet, back in 1981 the critics panned this show. With opening night of October 10 approaching, Mendez was asked what she wants to say to the critics: “We can’t wait for you to see it. We hope you enjoy it!”

To watch a trailer for “Merrily We Roll Along” click on the video player below:

Merrily We Roll Along | Now On Broadway by
Merrily We Roll Along Broadway on

For more info:

  • “Merrily We Roll Along,” at the Hudson Theatre, New York City | Ticket info
  • Thanks to Jay Records for photos of Maria Friedman as Mary in the Leicester Haymarket Theatre production of “Merrily We Roll Along,” and of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth in front of the Leicester Haymarket Theatre 
  • Listen to the original 1981 Broadway cast recording of “Merrily We Roll Along” (Spotify), and the 1993 Leicester cast recording (Amazon)

Story produced by Kay Lim. Editor: Lauren Barnello. 

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