Merrily We Roll Along (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
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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.]
CLASSIC GOES MP3
I remember when this CLASSIC definitive version came out on half speed master vinyl from RCA. The quality of the recording was superlative. Great frequency response, clarity and fullness. Then I believe the original CD came out in 1986. That was the dawn of a new era in recorded music. No more scratches or surface noise. But what we also got was copressed, mechanical, stiff, lifeless sound, with very low volume. I was excited that the now SONY BMG would be remastering this CD. I couldn't wait for the CD so I downloaded the new remastered version from i-tunes. Big Mistake. Sondheim is not to be heard at 128 kbps. It sounds terrible--I can't listen to it anymore. I have to get it out of my ipod. I'll wait for the CD. Then I will send it over using Apple lossless.
The Definitive Merrily Is Here
This is the one to have, hands down. The remastered CD sounds marginally better than the original CD issue, but for this recording I'd pay to hear it on wax cylinders. The original show was a flop, but it produced one of the best cast albums ever, with many songs that are now standards (Old Friends, Not A Day Goes By, Good Thing Going...)
It's getting harder and harder to be a cynic...
Sondheim has got to quit impressing me. I'm becoming too optimistic about broadway's possibilities. This is definitely a great piece of Sondheim history. It's a perfect blend of his upbringing (epic choirs and waltzy Hammerstein-esque songs) and his own odd genius (that Sondheim way of sing-speaking with the music). Amazing. Truly Amazing. I suggest buying the whole album; there's enough genius on here to be worth double what itunes is charging.
Born: March 22, 1930 in New York, NY
Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s