Thanksgiving had ended, cherished family members had flown home to other states; it was time to indulge in a delicious dessert for a diehard Stephen Sondheim fan like myself: a Merrily-thon.
First came a Sunday preview performance of a new production of “Merrily We Roll Along” at the brave Wallis in Beverly Hills, starring Broadway’s Aaron Lazar as composer/film producer Franklin Shepard, multi-Emmy winner Wayne Brady as his long-suffering writing partner Charley Kringas, and Donna Vivino (Wicked) as their novelist pal, Mary Flynn.
Then came the film documentary at the Laemmle Royal Theater in West L.A. about the spectacular flop of Merrily’s Broadway debut in 1981, directed by the original Charley, Lonnie Price. It’s a remarkable look at the life choices and disillusionment of the original cast and creators of this musical about life choices and disillusionment, enhanced by rich documentary footage shot prior to the opening. Here’s the show that shattered a theatrical partnership seemingly forged in steel: the team of Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince, who had previously collaborated on game-changers Company, Follies, and Sweeney Todd.
But let’s get back to this splendid and rare opportunity to see real thing, a professional production of “Merrily” in Los Angeles that runs through mid-December.
There’s no doubt: for his first production as artist-in-residence of The Wallis, Director Michael Arden has set himself a challenge: shaping a brand new interpretation of this famous theatrical failure. Along with our stalwart USC Thornton School of Music intern, Rose Campion, I twisted arms to visit a rehearsal of this musical that has become a cult favorite in the 35 years since its debut. Here’s our feature that aired on Arts Alive. And really, you’ve got to see the show.
Those were the voices of Tony-nominated director Michael Arden, and before that, actor Wayne Brady, one of the stars of Arden’s must-see original production of “Merrily We Roll Along”. The Stephen Sondheim/George Furth musical about the writing of musicals, about friendship, illusions…really about life itself, runs at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts November 30 through December 18th. More at thewallis.org.