Before I get started, I wanted to note that this is my 300th post! What a feeling! Thanks to all of my readers who share in my crazy performing arts ramblings. In the words of Angelica Schuyler, “May you always be satisfied.”
I will say this much too- it was a rough week for theatre for me. I didn’t get the role I wanted at an audition, and then I got rejected from a writers’ lab. So, typical artist struggles…got to keep trying. But the one good experience I had, theatrically speaking, was seeing Fiasco Theater’s new production of Merrily We Roll Along off-Broadway!
As soon as I walked into the Laura Pels Theatre, I was immediately struck by Derek McLane’s stunning set design. The afternoon just got more interesting from there, with six (6!) actors playing a ton of roles…and doing them all extremely well. These stripped-down, actor-focused productions of classic shows are the calling card of Fiasco Theater Group. They’re very inspirational to me.
Merrily We Roll Along has a bit of a colorful history. Infamously, it was one of the biggest Broadway flops of all time, playing 16 performances at the Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon Theatre) before closing up shop. No one could argue that Stephen Sondheim had, once again, written a knockout score…but its book was considered irreparably problematic. And over the years, Sondheim and his collaborators have seen remountings of the piece, all attempting to repair the irreparable.
What makes the show particularly unique, in case you didn’t know, is that the story is told in reverse, a technique also used by 1/2 of Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years. Because we know the characters will end up unhappily, the hopeful finale (their beginning) is extremely sad to me. Needless to say, I cried.
That being said, while I loved the production, I can understand why it failed to catch on with its earlier audiences. The narrative style is an acquired taste, and no matter how brilliant your songs are, the audience is going to have a bad time if they can’t figure out what the hell is going on. But Merrily We Roll Along is a wonder…those who can appreciate the show have elevated it to cult status.
And that, “Old Friends,” ensures that it shall not be forgotten, and will likely have more “Good Things Going” in the years to come.