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Merrily We Roll Along (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

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Album Review

Songwriter Stephen Sondheim and librettist George Furth's 1981 musical Merrily We Roll Along, based on the 1934 George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart play, was — like its predecessor — more of a critical success, at least over time, than a popular one. In fact, with a run of only 16 performances, the musical was an outright flop, the worst commercial failure in the career of Sondheim, Broadway's leading composer, since Anyone Can Whistle ran nine performances in 1964. The reasons may have been several, the most significant one perhaps being the same backwards structure adopted by the play (each scene takes place earlier in time than the one before it), which intrigued critics but tended to leave audiences confused and disengaged. Other reasons may have included the casting of young unknowns and the low-key staging and costumes, which consisted largely of sweatshirts. Then there was the plot, which concerned an idealistic young playwright (in the play) or composer (in the musical) who becomes jaded during the course of the story, except of course that in this telling he starts out jaded and becomes idealistic. In any case, the reason why the musical was remembered after those 16 performances and revived several times was Sondheim's score, which is one of his best. Writing from personal knowledge and covering the time period of his own career (1955-1980), Sondheim composed some of his most moving love songs ("Not a Day Goes By," "Good Thing Going") and some of his wittiest patter songs ("Franklin Shepard, Inc.," "Bobby and Jackie and Jack") in a collection that held together extraordinarily well. That young cast turned out to have some budding talents, including Lonny Price, who went on to a successful career as a stage director, and Jason Alexander, who starred on-stage (Jerome Robbins' Broadway) before achieving national television fame on Seinfeld. This is one of those cast albums, like House of Flowers or Anyone Can Whistle, that makes the listener marvel that the stage production could have failed when the music is so wonderful. [The 1985 CD reissue of the album added as a bonus track the song "It's a Hit!," which had been eliminated from the initial 1982 LP release for space reasons. The 2007 CD reissue added two more bonus tracks, one a previously unreleased demo recording of "It's a Hit!" enthusiastically performed by Sondheim himself, and the other a live performance of "Not a Day Goes By" by Bernadette Peters from her album Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall.]

Biography

Born: March 22, 1930 in New York, NY

Genre: Soundtrack

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Stephen Sondheim was the most highly regarded composer/lyricist for the musical theater in his generation. Having his first musical produced on Broadway in 1957 and his 14th in 1994, he straddled two eras. The broadly popular musical theater of his early years gradually became a more insular art form, addressing a smaller, more dedicated, more serious audience. This jibed perfectly with the composer's own tendencies. In a sense, he was to the world of show tunes what Bob Dylan was to that of pop...
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Merrily We Roll Along (Original Broadway Cast Recording), Stephen Sondheim
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