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A CurtainUp Review
Merrily We Roll Along

Why is it old friends donít want old friends to change?— from "Growing Up."
 Merrily We Roll Along
Celia Keenan-Bolger, Colin Donnell, Lin-Manuel Miranda,
(Photo credit: Joan Marcus)
I can't think of a rhyming paraphrase of Noel Coward's famous "Don't quibble Sybil." But, I urge any reader on the fence about seeing the Encores! revival of Merrily We Roll Along, to ignore the quibblers about this show's unfixable problems and head to City Center before it disappears for another twenty years.

Sure, the book and music still aren't a match made in heaven, but James Lapine, Stephen Sondheim's collaborator on Sunday in the Park With George and this production's director, and projection designer Wendell K. Harrington have seen to it that this Merrily We Roll Along is not a hopelessly dysfunctional marriage of book and music. In fact, though not quibble-immune, The Encores! production does indeed roll merrily along. The reverse story telling works quite well and to hear Sondheim's songs accompanied by a full-sized orchestra . . . well, to quote another master lyricist, "who could ask for anything more?"

The reverse story telling that has each scene take place at an earlier one than the one last seen is always a challenge, but especially so in a musical in which the songs must clarify the time changes. Harrington's projections most effectively sharpen the time element. The images —some establishing historic events for a particular time periods, others working as a photo album for the three main characters — are astutely projected just below the orchestra also add to the production's visual pleasures.

The period covered in this present-to-past plot arc begins in Hollywood where we see where the hopes and dreams that bonded three creative young people have evolved and affected the friendship: Marital problems and financial ambition prompted Frank to abandon Broadway and his partnership with lyricist Charley to become a rich Hollywood producer. . devoted confidante and booster Mary did write a novel but her love for Frank remains her not very well kept secret. And yet, the shifting alliances and career paths, keep the trio connected and yearning for those early days when they still treated their friendship like a garden to be watered.

The current old friends retracing their path back to the Manhattan rooftop where it all began are Lin-Manuel Miranda as Charley Kringas, Colin Donnell as Franklin Shepard and Celia Keenan-Bolger (Mary Flynn. Donnell, last seen in Anything Goes, is the best fit for Sondheim's musical style, but Miranda and Keenan-Bolger, though not natural Sondheim singers, bring their own style to their roles. Keenan-Bolger's Mary is reminiscent of Dorothy Parker and Miranda manages to inject his number with a rap/patter song flavor. The chemistry between all three is vibrant and strong enough to offset any quibbles about vocal shortcomings.

Betsy Wolfe as Beth Spencer and Adam Grupper as Joe Josephson also do fine work. But if there's a standout, it's Elizabeth Stanley, a seasoned Sondheimian (April in <a href="company2006.html">Company) as Gussie Carnegie. Ann Houd-Ward, who seems to have gone out of her way to dress Keenen-Bolger in period perfect but excessively ugly outfits, makes up for it with a stunning red gown for Gussie in the show's big production number, "Musical Husbands" at the top of the second and best act. Not to be overlooked is the adorable little trouper Zachary Unger who plays Frank Jr.

If the tweaking of the story and the projections make the Furth-Sondheim marriage work quite well the real reason to see this Merrily We Roll Along are the songs: "Old Friends" by the central trio. . . Charley's "Franklin Shepard Inc" solo. . . Betsy Wolfe's poignant "Not a Day Goes By" . . the company's delicious "Opening Doors" . . .and the fabulous "Our Time" finale when the somewhat sour old friends are once again young, likeable hopefuls you want to root for.

I rather doubt that the "It's a Hit" number when Frank and Charley's show opens successfully on Broadway, portends that the Encores! Merrily. . . will turn this 31-year-old Broadway flop into a 2012 or 2013 hit. But it's got enough hit qualities for me to repeat: See it before its longer than usual but still short City Center run rolls away again.

When you go, be sure to read ack Viertel's enlightening essay about the show's history on pages 10-12 of the Encores! Playbill.

Encores! concert production of Merrily We Roll Along
Music and lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Book: George Furth, based on the original play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart
Director: James Lapine
Music direction: Rob Berman
Musical staging: Dan Knechtges
Orchestrations: Jonathan Tunick
Cast: Lin-Manuel Miranda (Charley Kringas), Colin Donnell (Franklin Shepard), Celia Keenan-Bolger (Mary Flynn), Betsy Wolfe (Beth Spencer), Elizabeth Stanley (Gussie Carnegie), Adam Grupper (Joe Josephson}, Zachary Unger (Frank Jr.); also Whit Baldwin, Rachel Coloff, Ben Crawford, Joshua Dela Cruz, Bernard Dotson, Colleen Fitzpatrick, Marja Harmon, Leah Horowitz, Mylinda Hull, Michael X. Martin, Sean McKnight, Kenita R. Miller, Patricia Noonan, Andrew Samonsky, Pearl Sun, Charlie Sutton, Jessica Vosk, Karl Warden and Michael Winther.
Projections: Wendell K. Harrington'
Lights: Ken Billington
Wigs: Tom Watson
Stage Manager: Peter Lawrence
New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street, Manhattan; (212) 581-1212,
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.
February 8Ė19, 2012,
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at February 11, 2012 matinee
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Overture /Orchestra
  • Merrily We Roll Along /Company
  • That Frank /Colin Donnell, Celia Keenan-Bolger, and Guests
  • Old Friends /Celia Keenan-Bolger and Lin-Manuel Miranda
  • Like It Was /Celia Keenan-Bolger
  • Franklin Shepard. Inc /Lin-Manuel Miranda
  • Old Friends /Celia Keenan-Bolger, Colfn Donnell, and Lin-Manuel Miranda
  • Growing Up /Colin Donnell and Elizabeth Stanley
  • Not a Day Goes By /Betsy Wolfe
  • Now You Know / Celia Keenan-Bolger and Company
  • Act Two
    • Entr'acte /Orchestra
    • Musical Husbands / Elizabeth Stanley with Whit Baldwin, Sean McKnight, Charlie Sutton, and Karl Warden
    • It's a Hit!/ Colin Donnell, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Adam Grupper, and Betsy Wolfe
    • The Blob /Elizabeth Stanley and Company
    • Growing Up/ Elizabeth Stanley
    • Good Thing Going /Lin-Manuel Miranda, Colin Donnell
    • Bobby and Jackie and Jack /Lin-Manuel Miranda, Betsy Wolfe, and Colin Donnell
    • Not a Day Goes By / Betsy Wolfe, Colin Donnell, and Celia Keenan-Bolger
    • Opening Doors /Lin-Manuel Miranda, Colin Donnell, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Adam Grupper, Kenita R. Miller, and Betsy Wolfe
    • Our Time /Colin Donnell, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Celia Keenan-Bolger
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