Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Merrily We Roll Along’ receives noteworthy revival at the Wallis in Beverly Hills

MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG

Along the way there are marriages and infidelities, betrayals and divorces, hollow successes and rousing triumphs. At the same time the story is cross-referenced with the tattering of America’s dream, working back from the disillusionment of Watergate and the horror of Vietnam, to the short-lived glory of Kennedy’s “Camelot” portrayed with affection and humor in the song, “Bobby and Jackie and Jack.” The over-riding question is, “How did we get here?” How was so much love, friendship and artistic credibility sacrificed to the god of mammon? In “Merrily” he dissects the tattered central relationship by moving back in time, decade by decade. The end result (which is presented as the beginning of the story) is an ugly thing to watch filled with loveless infidelity, backbiting bitterness and a lot of inhaled coke.Dissecting relationships and their complexities has always been at the heart of Sondheim’s work.
As directed by Michael Arden (the Wallis’ first artist in residence), this “Merrily” rolls along in a manner that consistently gains momentum, dramatic clarity and emotional resonance as it retraces the 20-year partnership between three friends: the composer Franklin Shepard (Aaron Lazar), writer/theater critic Mary Flynn (Donna Vivino) and playwright/lyricist Charley Kringas (Wayne Brady).The action begins in 1976 at a point when the one-time Three Musketeers are more than ready to run each other through, the depth of their animosity irreparably deep. And Charley, who latest play is in line for a Pulitzer, is nowhere to be seen. Frank has become the rich producer of vacuous (but lucrative) Hollywood trash. Mary has become a loud-mouth drunk.
It’s a scene that turned out to be all too autobiographical for Sondheim and librettist George Furth.On Oct. It is far too good a musical to be judged by those twin kangaroo courts of word of mouth and critical consensus.” 8, 1981, after 52 preview performances, their show “Merrily We Roll Along” opened to less than favorable reviews on Broadway and closed after only 16 performances. It was the critic, Clive Barnes, however, who perhaps acted as a fortuneteller of things to come when he wrote, “Whatever you may have heard about it — go and see it for yourselves. There is a scene in Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along” where a writer/composer team waits anxiously backstage to find out if their first Broadway show is a hit or a flop.
Tuesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 18.Tickets: $29-$110.Running time: 3 hrs., including intermission.Suitability: For mature audiences, due to language and drug use.Information: 310-746-4000 or thewallis.org. ★★&#x2605&#x2605Where: Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 8390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills.When: 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m.
Rousing revivalEver since that fateful opening night, true believers have done their best to pump life back into the musical. The latest effort to reintroduce “Merrily We Roll Along” took place in brilliant fashion Saturday at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, and it is a hit!There are any number of reasons why you should go see “Merrily.” First of all, it offers a rare opportunity to see a fully produced Broadway-scale musical (with orchestra) in a venue as intimate and sonically bright as the Wallis. And then there is the production itself.