re: MERRILY-- A naysayer's review
Posted by: BruceinIthaca 01:35 pm EST 02/07/24
In reply to: re: MERRILY-- A naysayer's review - Singapore/Fling 12:25 pm EST 02/07/24

I saw the original, albeit in previews, when Jim Weissenbach was still playing Frank. I was a poor graduate student at the time and I had come east from Northwestern to do archival research at the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia for my dissertation on the poet Marianne Moore. I stayed two weekends with my best friend (RIP) Gary and we both could only afford to go to one show. I was determined for it to be Merrily, as Sweeney Todd was the first Broadway show I'd seen and I was getting over a love affair that had ended unhappily two months earlier. Merrily disappointed me deeply. When I heard Weissenbach had been replaced in the role before it opened, I was surprised mainly because it seemed to me the problems were with the script--Weissenbach wasn't a star, but he was far from awful. I think Jim Walton is a top-notch performer and have enjoyed him in other shows (especially "And the World Goes Round") but I didn't think the show's problems could be solved by recasting. Ann Morrison was the standout performer for me, but so much of her material and character were unappealing that I thought she was amazing for making Mary so memorable, even if she seemed a second-rate Dorothy Parker. Neither Lonny Price nor any of the others registered much for me. I think Groff and Radcliffe are both wonderful, but I have no desire to see the show. I saw an off-Loop production in Chicago a few years later that had more zest to it and suggested possibilities. I saw the Friedman production captured on film and shown in theatres around 2013 and was once again struck by how uninteresting the characters were, even with the estimable Jenna Russell as Mary. I guess the show is not for me--not when I was 24, not when I am 66. And I genuinely love many of Sondheim's shows-Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, and parts of Follies and Company (I admired Passion and saw both Donna Murphy in the original cast and Patti Lupone at Ravinia in it, but is not a show I embrace much) . But Merrily has always felt like the writers were aiming too low for the younger versions of he characters and too soapy for the older ones. I think Furth was, overall, an uneven writer, but I think both Sondheim and Prince are partly responsible for the show's problems. On the other hand, when I was driving home last night, I had the Sirius Broadway station on and "Our Time" played--and I did almost weep--for he 24 year old I had been, for my friend Gary, dead of AIDS twelve years later, and for 66 year old me listening to the song. So...
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