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 (and, granted, their sparseness may more-or-less accurately reflect the light-polluted cityscapes of Los Angeles in 1976 or downtown Manhattan in 1957).

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:

And the album's Digital Booklet can be viewed or downloaded 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, already somewhat hoary by 1981, 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 compassionate 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 change may seem minor, I think it does 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).



Also, Groff and Radcliffe participated in Mendez's wedding to her All Rise costar J. Alex Brinson this past Monday.  The newlyweds are expecting a baby this fall, but in the meantime Mendez will remain with Merrily through July.


Further hijinks with our lovable Tony-nominated trio — who, if they don't already have one by now, really need a compound nickname (like Brangelina or Bennifer, but tripartite):  Jandsay?  Dindathan?  Linathiel?...

Anyway, here they are at the 92nd St Y a few weeks ago:

...And in several more cast-album music videos, featuring mixed footage from rehearsal, performance, and the recording studio:



I'm finally seeing this on the Broad Way next Sunday, a week from today.  Sadly, Daniel Radcliffe will be out next weekend.  But I already enjoyed his Charley at NYTW last year, so it will be interesting to see his understudy this time.


Groffsauce, led by interviewer Michael Schulman on a backward journey from last month (the Met gala, the Tony-nom announcements) to twenty years ago (moving to NYC at 19), keeps getting misty-eyed:

The New Yorker:   Jonathan Groff Rolls Merrily Back

Yesterday's matinée was lovely — I could still nitpick both the show and the production; but time, and a bit more polishing since NYTW, have more or less won me over.   Radcliffe's understudy, Coby Getzug, was fine (his "Franklin Shepard, Inc.," the most obvious hurdle to clear, was flawless), though his chemistry with Groff and Mendez seemed muted.  Many of my quibbles from NYTW have been addressed (and some besides), and the design and staging seemed tighter overall.  Gilmour's scenic tricks, while still not entirely invisible, are satisfactorily less apparent-in-advance than I've ever seen them.

The whole cast was in fine form, and the presumably now-definitive version of the book once again feels right to me, especially in terms of sheer comprehensibility — evidenced by increasingly-frequent audience gasps and spellbound collective ooohs and mmmms over the course of the second act, as various consequential plot points get traced back to their origins, each clicking into place with a satisfying balance of unexpectedness and inevitability.  (As always, the long-delayed introduction of Charley's wife(-to-be) got one of the afternoon's bigger laughs after her brief appearance on the rooftop — and almost immediate exit — when Mendez called after her by name: "Evelyn!!", while Getzug gave a thunderstruck "take" to the audience: moony-eyed, instantly smitten.  Minutes before, he'd been agreeing with Frank that artistic ambition was more important than marriage — a distinct mmmm, since we know they'll both be married and expecting within a very few years, well before their first taste of professional success — but the "Evelyn" moment, in its dopey sincerity, converts any lingering doubt into delight.  It's an interesting tonal trick, suggesting that these youngsters were straying from their declared plans almost from the literal moment of declaring them, but doing so in a way that short-circuits irony in favor of real affection, however bittersweet, for these characters.  I credit Friedman, whose way with actors, and whose long connection with this show as both director and performer, are among her production's greatest assets).

Revisiting a pet obsession: the stars for the finale are finally, glitteringly, there, including -- just as I'd suggested here last year -- a generous smattering embedded in the walls of the interior unit set itself, which, when lit, successfully render Frank's house temporarily "transparent/invisible".  Rather than appearing for the entire rooftop scene as I'd hypothesized, these additional stars (along with a bunch more out in the auditorium, strikingly suspended above and around the proscenium, but invisible until illuminated) appear only for the last few seconds of the show, just before the final blackout — which means that the "rooftop" scene still kinda feels like it's indoors, though its lighting does feel thankfully more romantic at the Hudson than it did downtown.  Still, the starscape, reinstated and expanded from previous iterations of this production — and particularly the portion of it that's embedded in the walls — does suggest that either someone on the creative team read my post here (vanishingly unlikely) or that it really was kind of a no-brainer.  Either way, kudos to the creatives:  it looks gorgeous, and, along with the slightly rejiggered orchestration, it really makes the show's final moments hauntingly beautiful (in a way that pointedly wasn't the case at NYTW).

All in all, a lovely afternoon, with beautiful spring weather to match.  A light, early dinner afterward at Café Un Deux Trois, right next door to the theatre, rounded out the day nicely.


Thanks to Mike "Mme Armfeldt" for posting this on FB:


Congrats to Messrs. Groff, Radcliffe and Tunick.  Overall, I thought Merrily did well at tonight's Tonys, though of course I would have liked to see Mlles. Friedman and Mendez win too.  Awarding only two of the inseparable central three, and the production but not its director — who, by popular and critical consensus, has singlehandedly reversed the fortunes of an infamous flop — is unfortunate, to put it mildly.

(On the other hand, for what it's worth: while I haven't seen The Outsiders in any medium, what I've seen, heard and read about Danya Taymor's production has intrigued me enough to consider seeing a show in which I probably wouldn't otherwise have much interest.  On yet a third hand, even Kecia Lewis's gracious and blessedly articulate acceptance speech tonight probably won't entice me to see Hell's Kitchen – despite having apparently once been, loosely speaking, a neighbor of its composer-lyricist; I've never met Ms. Keys to my knowledge, but I did live three blocks above Manhattan Plaza, for six years at around the time her jukebox-autobio-musical takes place.  It has gotten good reviews, but there's too much else to see these days; and of course, now that I'm about to once again start making enough money to see a bit more theatre than has lately been the case... I won't have any free time in which to do so.  Hi-ho, the glamorous life).

In happier news, it appears that RadicalMedia, the outfit that produced the "cinematic Broadway films" of Hamilton (Disney+) and American Utopia (HBO), will be filming Merrily at the Hudson this week.  Apple TV+ (previously the home of yet another B'way capture from RadicalMedia, Come From Away) has been rumored as a possible eventual streaming outlet for Merrily, though I'd imagine that, as with the show's 2013 West End (Digital Theatre) proshot and various other shows since then (Waitress, Titanic, etc.), a few cinema dates might possibly come first.


I never knew the Friedman sisters (and their siblings) had such a tumultuous childhood:

NYT:  The Sisters Who Turned a Sondheim Flop Into a Tony Winner
              Maria and Sonia Friedman discussed their long history with "Merrily We Roll Along," after a bittersweet Tony Awards.

I suppose it's the nature of awards seasons to turn literally everything about the artists and works being honored into reams of human-interest stories, even if they sometimes seem to overwhelm the nominal point of the event.  But when the humans in question seem this genuinely interesting, I'm not complaining.  (To the Friedmans' credit — and journalist Michael Paulson's — this isn't a sob story, and the play's the thing; while Maria's not gonna lie, "losing was painful" – she seems allergic to self-pity, mustering sincere congratulations for Danya Taymor ("I saw her work, and I think she absolutely deserves that.  I don't have a feeling like I was robbed").

There are still some seats remaining in most sections of the house for many performances in the remaining three weeks of Merrily's run, but they start at $349 for the nosebleeds and run up to $799 for "Premium ++" seats which include a glass of prosecco and a few other equally silly perks.  (I'm not even counting the final performance, which runs up to a ludicrous $1,300 apiece for the choicest center-orchestra seats).

In other news, RadicalMedia's proshoot of Merrily has been officially announced, though with no new information (e.g. any mention of whether, when, or where one might eventually lay eyes on the finished recording).  Guess we'll just have to wait and see.