Merrily We Roll Along

Book by George Furth, based on George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s Merrily We Roll Along. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The original Broadway production opened on 16 November 1981 and was directed by Harold Prince with choreography by Larry Fuller, running for 16 performances.

Synopsis and Musical Numbers

Franklin Shepard is a rich, famous and influential song-writer and film producer. But how did he get to be where he is today? To find the answers we must look back at the years that have passed (MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG). Jumping back from 1980 to 1976, the first stop is at Frank’s swanky pad in Bel Air, after the premier of his latest movie. A party attended by the mogul’s friends, hangers-on and other Hollywood movers and shakers is in full swing (THAT FRANK – replaced RICH AND HAPPY). His long-time friend (a 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 but Mary’s remarks have hit a chord in Frank 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 Frank’s unhappy breakup with Gussie when she viciously attacks his new mistress, Meg.

1973, a New York TV studio (MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG – FIRST TRANSITION). Frank is going to be interviewed with Charley, his long-time lyricist collaborator. In the make-up room Charley greets Mary and tells her that Frank is now so busy making deals that he never has time to write shows anymore with him (OLD FRIENDS). Mary wonders plaintively why can’t their collective friendship be LIKE IT WAS. When the TV interview goes ahead, a nervous Charley 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.

1968, Frank’s apartment on Central Park West (MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG – SECOND TRANSITION). Frank and Charley are arguing over Frank’s decision to do a movie version of their show, 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 tries to pour oil on troubled waters when the argument starts to get out of control (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 (MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG – THIRD TRANSITION). 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. Their marriage is over and their friends offer their support (NOW YOU KNOW – a new version of this song was incorporated into later productions).

1964, the Alvin Theatre on the opening night of Musical Husbands (ENTR’ACTE / OPENING). Gussie discovers that Frank really fancies her. 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!

1962 (MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG – FOURTH TRANSITION). Gussie and Joe throw a party and their elegant Sutton Place apartment 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 (THE BLOB – cut from the original production but now restored). The songwriters to perform their latest number, GOOD THING GOING. The guests love it, but not enough to wait for a second performance before resuming their cocktail chatter (THE BLOB – reprise).

1960 dawns with many new hopes (MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG – FIFTH TRANSITION). Charley, Frank and Beth are playing a small nightclub and celebrating the accession of the Kennedys (BOBBY AND JACKIE AND JACK). Joe is in the tiny audience and he’s quite impressed, as is Gussie, 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 (REPRISE) 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 (MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG – SIXTH TRANSITION): 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 (MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG – SEVENTH TRANSITION). On the roof of an old apartment house on 110th Street in NYC. Frank, Charley and Mary are waiting for the first-ever earth-orbiting satellite. Suddenly, Sputnik is there in the sky and for the three young friends, anything is possible (OUR TIME).

Originally, the show opened and closed with a song called THE HILLS OF TOMORROW, which was used in a faming device for the show set at a graduation. Other songs cut from the show include: DARLING!, THANK YOU FOR COMING and HONEY.

Mini Gallery

Merrily We Roll Along Merrily We Roll Along Merrily We Roll Along Merrily We Roll Along

Purchases from Amazon.com

From left to right above: 1. Merrily We Roll Along 1981 Original Broadway Cast CD. 2. Merrily We Roll Along 1993 Leicester Cast CD. 3. Merrily We Roll Along 1994 Off-Broadway Revival Cast CD. 4. Putting It Together, 1993 Original Off-Broadway Cast CD, with songs from Merrily We Roll Along. 5. Merrily We Roll Along Vocal Selections.

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