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Merrily We Roll Along (The New Cast Recording)

Stephen Sondheim

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Album Review

When the Off-Broadway York Theatre Company's revival of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Merrily We Roll Along opened on May 26, 1994, it ran 54 performances, which was 38 performances more than the original Broadway production of 1981. Sondheim (music and lyrics) and Furth (book) adapted their show from George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's 1934 play, describing the commercial ascension and spiritual decline of a theater composer in scenes set in reverse chronological order. Although the first production failed, the score, heard on an original Broadway cast album, confirmed that the music was first-rate, and the creators revised the show for subsequent productions, finally settling on a new version by 1992 when it was revived by the Haymarket Theatre in Leicester, England, and given another cast recording. This recording of the York production is similar in content to that one, but it is vastly superior in performance. The cast, led by Malcolm Gets, Adam Heller, and Amy Ryder, nails the songs, and the 15-piece band handles the orchestrations well. In contrast, the Haymarket cast was far less accomplished vocally, and some of its members had trouble doing American accents. All that keeps this recording from being the definitive one is that, unfortunately, the new version of the show is not as good as the original. Merrily We Roll Along didn't fail in 1981 because of the score, yet Sondheim and Furth labored to fix what wasn't broken, largely by making the main character more likable, a change that undercuts the main theme of the piece. The score remains one of Sondheim's best, boasting the heartbreaking ballads "Not a Day Goes By" and "Good Thing Going" as well as the brilliantly witty patter songs "Franklin Shepard, Inc." and "Bobby and Jackie and Jack." But the original Broadway cast album still presents the best version of the material.


Born: 22 March 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 (The New Cast Recording), Stephen Sondheim
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