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Merrily We Roll Along

a musical comedy in two acts. Book by George Furth, based on the play by George S Kaufman and Moss Hart. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

Alvin Theatre, New York, 16 November 1981
Guildhall School of Music and Drama, 28 March 1983
Bloomsbury Theatre May 11th, 1983
Leicester Haymarket Theatre (revised version) 14 April, 1992

Produced at the Alvin Theatre, New York, 16 November 1981 with Jim Walton (Frank), Ann Morrison (Mary), Lonny Price (Charley) and Jason Alexander (Joe). Produced at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, 28 March 1983 with Hutton Cobb, Clare James, Bernard Wright and Charles Millham. (6 perfs). Arts Theatre, Cambridge April 4th, 1983 (7 perfs); Bloomsbury Theatre May 11th, 1983 (11 perfs.); Produced at the Leicester Haymarket Theatre, England in a revised version, 14th April 1992 with Michael Cantwell, Maria Friedman, Evan Pappas and Gareth Snook.


Act I

This is the story of Franklin Shepard, a rich, famous and influential song-writer and film producer. But how did he get to be where he is today? (Merrily We Roll Along) The years begin to roll back. First stop: 1976 - Frank's swanky pad in Bel Air, after the premier of his latest movie. A party is in full swing, attended by the "Friends" of That Frank, hangers-on, people who make things happen in show business, the movers. His long-time friend and theatre critic, Mary, is also at the party. She is disgusted that Frank has abandoned music - the one thing he was truly good at - for the world of commercial film producing. She gets progressively more and more drunk and, after insulting everyone, is ordered to leave. Their friendship is over ... However, Frank is stung by Mary's remarks, because he knows they are true - he has concentrated so completely on being a "success" that everything he most valued at the beginning of his career has long been left behind. The evening ends traumatically with the breakup of Frank's unhappy marriage to his wife Gussie when she viciously attacks Meg, his mistress.

Merrily We Roll Along back to 1973 and a New York TV studio. Frank is going to be interviewed with Charley, his long-time lyricist collaborator. In the make-up room Charley greets Mary as Old Friends, and tells her that Frank is now so busy making deals that he never has time to write shows anymore with him. Mary wonders plaintively why can't their collective friendship be Like It Was. When the TV interview goes ahead, a nervous Charley -1n case you didn't notice, this is my first time on TV - launches into a demented assault on the way his composer has transformed himself into a corporation, Franklin Shepard Inc. As Charley careers ever more ferociously between bitterness and self-contempt, Frank walks out. Their friendship is over ...

Merrily We Roll Along: it's 1968, Frank's apartment on Central Park West. He and Charley are arguing over his decision to do a movie version of one of their shows, "Musical Husbands". Frank wants to do it for the money, but Charley says that it will get in the way of writing any new musicals for some time. Mary looks on, and when the argument starts getting out of control reminds them that they are all still Old Friends. But nothing's that simple anymore. The Broadway producer Joe Josephson and his wife Gussie arrive. She and Frank have been having a long-term affair - Joe has learnt to live with it, but Mary, hopelessly in love with Frank, finds it much harder to accept. When the others leave, Gussie startles Frank by announcing that she intends to live with him and divorce Joe in the process (Growing Up).

1966: a courthouse in Lower Manhattan. Frank is being sued for divorce by Beth, and they wrangle over the custody of their son. Beth tells him that Not a Day Goes By when he isn't a part of her life, but she can't live with him knowing he is committing adultery with Gussie. The marriage is over. Okay, learn to live with it, their friends say. Now You Know ...

Act II

1964: at the Alvin Theatre, the opening night of "Musical Husbands". Gussie, having just discovered that Frank really fancies her, lustily sings He's Only a Boy. Meanwhile the curtain comes down on the show, and, as the applause swells, Broadway's latest words-and-music team, Charley and Frank, have to admit: It's a Hit! ... 

Merrily We Roll Along and peal the years back further to 1962 and a party at Gussic and Joe's elegant Sutton Place apartment. Gussic has thrown her soirée so that Frank and Charley, who are going to write a musical for Joe to produce, can meet all the richest and most influential people in town - she calls them The Blob because "they absorb everything". "Fermez those bouches," Gussie orders and invites the songwriters to perform their latest number, Good Thing Going. The guests love it, but not enough to wait until the end before resuming their cocktail chatter ... 

Merrily We Roll Along, back to 1960, the dawn of a new decade with new hopes. Charley, Frank and Beth are playing a small nightclub and celebrating the accession of America's new First Family,Bobby and Frankie and Jack. Joe is in the tiny audience and he's quite impressed, as is Gussic who is strongly attracted to Frank at this first meeting. Afterwards, Frank explains that he's marrying Beth and pledges that Not a Day Goes By when she's not a part of his life. At an adjoining table, Mary echoes the sentiment: it's how she'll always feel about Frank ... 

1959-57: Frank, Charley and Mary are busy in New York, establishing their careers, Opening Doors. The boys audition for Joe, but he wants more hummable tunes. So they decide to do their own show and end up hiring Beth. 

October 1957, 5.30 am, on the roof of an old apartment house on New York City's 110th Street, waiting for the first-ever earth-orbiting satellite. Suddenly, Sputnik is there in the sky and for the three young friends - Frank, Charley and Mary - anything is possible: this is Our Time - "and there's so much stuff to sing!.



Orchestration Details


RCA VICTOR RD 85840 - Original Cast