Re: MERRILY on Broadway 2023

Started by scenicdesign71, Mar 08, 2022, 12:49 AM

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Opening next Tuesday...

Looks like we finally have at least a light sprinkling of stars outside the upstage window for "Our Time".  (Or rather, they're back: while I definitely didn't see any at NYTW, a quick check of the Digital Theatre capture confirms they were there in the production's 2013 UK iteration).  I'm still not 100% convinced they're enough: as I said back in January, a starlit sky is the absolute barest-minimum requirement in this context -- we're still stuck in a rather unprepossessing and placeless indoors, looking out, for the "rooftop" scene -- and as stars go, the handful on offer here are a mere gesture.  But they're better than nothing.

On a bolder scale, I believe the colorful, stage-filling "Musical Husbands" billboard is new, too.  In pure visual terms, it's a notable improvement on the expedient but unsatisfying solutions (curtains, projections) for "It's A Hit!" in previous versions of Gilmour's design -- though, like those solutions, this one still seems to somewhat vitiate the apparent overall premise of building Frank's memoryscape entirely within his LA livingroom.

Nitpicks aside, both these tweaks suggest a willlingness, on the part of the Friedman sisters and their team, to keep improving for B'way.  And for that they have my admiration.


(Rejoice!  The show finally works, now that Friedman has fearlessly plumbed its profound nastiness, boldly foregrounding a frankly sociopathic antihero.)

(Rejoice!  The show finally works, now that Friedman has diligently nurtured its essential sweetness, led by a trio of brilliantly lovable lead performances.)

Each, of course, is fully amazed by the penetrating insight of their own Friedman's genius new interpretation... Green seems off in his own (very dark -- is he okay??) world, while Holdren seems uncharacteristically late to the party.  But overall, they actually do seem to agree that a large part of what kept the show from working for lo these four decades was a sort of confusion as to how we're meant to feel about these characters.  Thank god that's finally been cleared up!

(And these are two of my favorite reviewers.  Gotta love it!)

Regardless, after reaching middle age (the show will turn 42 next month) still shadowed by its lifelong reputation as a cult flop, Merrily is now eliciting an outpouring of unconditional love from B'way critics and audiences alike, and, whatever my own quibbles, I certainly don't begrudge it that success.  (Full review roundup at BroadwayWorld ... spoiler alert -- as of this writing, they've tallied up 17 reviews in all: unanimous raves).

A couple of these reviews mention that "Our Time"'s upstage starscape has been enhanced for B'way with additional stars out in front of the proscenium:

Quote from: Greg Evans, Deadline, October 10 2023...pensive and surrounded by stars in the sky (and throughout the theater), the friendless Frank seems to have a look of realization in his eyes.
Quote from: Carolyn Cao, Slash Film, October 14 2023...the musical concludes with stars blazing upon the ceiling of the Hudson Theatre. Only by reflecting upon the old times can Frank see those stars again.

Go team --  this sounds like an excellent choice!

I don't recall noticing this before but, as of July, the show's "strictly limited" 18-week run had been extended an additional nine weeks: it's now set to close on March 24, 2024, rather than the originally-announced January 21.


The 2023 Broadway revival cast album is now available for streaming and preorder (vinyl or CD) here:


The final, post-"Our Time" closing musical sequence, as it appears on the new cast album, strikes me as a long-overdue improvement on previous versions.

Ever since the OBCR (where it followed the "Hills of Tomorrow" reprise), this brief sequence has consisted of a pair of "Merrily" vamps followed by three or four halting, increasingly insistent repetitions of that vamp's unresolved final chord, almost as if prodding a singer who's missed their cue.  Then -- as if in hasty substitution for the "Yesterday is done..." or "Pick yourself a road...", etc., that would normally follow -- the vamp instead resolves in a single final flourish of trumpets, so showbizzily-upbeat that I've only ever been able to hear it as a statement of harsh dramatic irony.  It almost seems to call out for Frank to make his exit a beat early, leaving no one onstage to receive this brassy "ta-da!" -- except perhaps his pointedly-empty spotlight -- before the final blackout.  Regardless of how it's staged, the moment tends to register sonically (and sardonically) as the kind of downbeat, anti-"Broadway" meta-statement pioneered by SJS and others in the '70s (Bobby left partner-less in "Side By Side By Side"; Ben losing his lyrics in "Live, Laugh, Love"; The Leading Player shutting down Pippin; the Chorus Line finale courting our reflexive applause even after we've spent the whole evening witnessing its human cost).  But in the context of Merrily this final-curtain strategy has always felt, to me, strident and a bit tacked-on: our cue, to get up and go home feeling deflated and hopeless.

In the creators' defense, endings are a bitch.  And they've engineered one here, in terms of theme and plot -- whether finishing with "Our Time" or "Hills of Tomorrow" -- about which little can be said or sung, by way of a final sign-off, beyond a shrug of sympathetic dismay.

Nevertheless, speechless sorrow comes in many shades, and even a few smallish adjustments to this brief final sequence make a welcome improvement for Broadway 2023.  (They may have been heard at NYTW when I saw the show there in January, but I don't recall for sure; they definitely weren't in the 2013 London capture, though the wise decision to lop off "Our Time"'s applause by running it straight into the final sequence was already in place by then).  The music hasn't changed all that much: most notably, we first begin not with the "Merrily" vamp but with the ghostly lingering strains of "Our Time" -- the same piano-and-triangle intro that, in the original production, brought us back to the high-school graduation(s).  Thereafter, the differences are mostly a matter of subtle orchestrational and dynamic finesse.  But overall, in place of sullen irony, the new recording's gentler transition and musical attack (crisp but sensitive, with lower horns for the final flourish) somehow lets us live in the cognitive dissonance of "past" and "present" in a more humane way: heartbroken but not depressed, and not altogether without hope.  The Frank who takes a mental "snapshot" in this final moment (by screwing his eyes shut and swallowing, as he confesses to Gussie after their game of "Trading Hostages") might be his younger self or his older one, or somehow both.  More than doubled in overall length -- from the abrupt original 20-second coda to a thankfully less-rushed 45 seconds: just enough to feel, at last, like a meaningful postlude -- the music now allows us to experience this ambiguity in a more freely-emotional way, as compared to the original's flat, verging-on-gimmicky "before and after" queasiness.

A lot of words to explain a fairly simple and probably little-noticed musical adjustment.  It may well have resulted from nothing more poetic than a vague desire to extend Frank's final moment (or from sheer practical consideration, giving the rest of the cast more time to get offstage).  But while the changes may seem minor, I think they do represent a degree of thoughtful improvement to Merrily's ending -- which, while perhaps not at the very top of the list of the show's tricky challenges, was always on that list.


Posted by Eric H-G on the Facebook FTC group...

Broadway Journal:  Dynamic 'Merrily' Rolls Up to $899

...For the holidays, that is, and only for the very-best seats at a handful of performances.  But still.    :o



Extended again, now through July 7.

That'll make it 42 weeks, more than doubling the originally-announced "strictly limited" 18.
No recasting is mentioned, but then neither is there any explicit mention of whether the three leads have extended their contracts (again).