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“Merrily We Roll Along,” Stephen Sondheim’s biggest flop, closed on Broadway after just 16 performances. Several valiant attempts to resuscitate the show have since been undertaken, and the revised version that Eric Schaeffer directed in 2007 at Arlington’s Signature Theatre proved that “Merrily” can be made to work. I haven’t reviewed it since then, though, so I went up to Boston to check out the U.S. transfer of Maria Friedman’s London revival, which Mr. Sondheim himself calls “the best I’ve seen.” Far be it from me to disagree: This is certainly the best “Merrily” I’ve seen…
Like the 1934 George S. Kaufman-Moss Hart play from which it was adapted, “Merrily We Roll Along,” written in collaboration with George Furth, runs backward in time. It starts by showing us the empty triumph of Franklin Shepard (Mark Umbers), a talented songwriter who gives up music to become a movie producer. Then the calendar is flipped back year by year so that we can watch him sell his soul on the installment plan. A dark tale of disillusion that was too bitter for Broadway in 1980, “Merrily” rings truer today, and this new version, extensively revised by Messrs. Sondheim and Furth, fully engages the audience in the plight of Franklin and the idealistic friends (Damian Humbley and Eden Espinosa) whom he jettisons as he slithers up the greasy pole….
Ms. Friedman’s staging is both deeply felt and refreshingly free of needless complications, making the upside-down narrative structure of “Merrily” seem as straightforward as a fast trip from point A to point B….
“Mary Jane,” Amy Herzog’s masterly play about a single mother with a severely disabled child, has transferred to the New York Theatre Workshop after its Yale Repertory Theatre premiere. Ms. Herzog and Anne Kauffman, the director, have done a bit of work on the script and production since it opened in New Haven, cutting the intermission and restaging the climactic scene, in both cases to good effect. They’ve also recast the show, in which Carrie Coon now plays the title role. Ms. Coon went on to TV stardom after winning a Tony nomination for her performance in the 2012 Broadway revival of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Nevertheless, she’s still a stage actor of the first rank, and in “Mary Jane” she rises to the tricky challenge of playing a very nice but rather ordinary young woman—ordinary, that is, save for her indomitable courage—in a way that is matchlessly vivid….
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To read my review of Merrily We Roll Along, go here.
To read my review of Mary Jane, go here.
Eden Espinosa and the cast of Merrily We Roll Along perform “Now You Know”: