re: I would've loved to have seen what they started with
Posted by: AlanScott 06:14 pm EST 02/09/24
In reply to: I would've loved to have seen what they started with - rvs 10:23 am EST 02/09/24

I always thought the T-shirts were about how all these people saw themselves primarily in relation to Frank. It does seem like they were added — after the original costumes were nixed because they clearly didn't work at all at a dress rehearsal — because either the dress rehearsal audience was confused by the many characters or because of a fear that audiences would be confused.

Remember, the version that started previews followed Kaufman and Hart more closely in having many secondary characters who showed up under various circumstances as we moved backward in time but only in one or two more scenes after their first appearance, and often they were sort of different as we moved back. Having seen the third preview, I will say again that the audience seemed confused trying to follow all this even with the T-shirts.

I'm not sure that the actors who played Beth's parents were the youngest in the cast. I've never heard or read that before, at least not that I recall, but you certainly may be right. I do know that the guy loved playing that part, perhaps especially after Prince took away his other role, about which he is still understandably a bit bitter. But he felt somewhat OK because he still had the part he especially loved. (He talked about this in 2019 at the Merrily reunion at the Bruno Walter Auditorium at the Library for the Performing Arts.)

I never thought we were supposed to find the cast truly believable as the characters when they were older. I always thought the idea was that we were supposed to see the youthful innocence, faith and hope even as they had lost all those youthful feelings and beliefs. Later in previews, in the final version (more or less) that opened, it was clear that they literally were high school kids playing these people, which it seems was always the idea but it wasn't coming through, not even to me, although it seems to have come through to at least some people.

I know about some of this because in 2019 I gave a talk on Merrily at the Laura Pels after a performance of the Roundabout-Fiasco production. I spent many hours at the Library for the Performing Arts going over lots of stuff, including letters to and from Prince during previews.

As you yourself seem to have found Morrison quite believable singing "Like It Was," I found at least the principals, with the exception of Walton, believable enough when older. Especially Morrison and Price. Walton did, of course, have the most difficult role and did not have the benefit of the rehearsal period, not to mention months of thinking about the character beforehand between being cast and the start of rehearsals, especially long in this case because the show was delayed after being fully cast because Sondheim still had a good deal of stuff to write. In the reunion concert, he seemed like he then would have been able to pull it off.

I don't especially like the show being cast with people in the middle, or at least I never did till the current production. I never thought it worked in any of the other productions of the revised version so I suppose that is something else positive that I can say about this production. Still, there are things that I really miss about not having young people in the roles.

On the other hand, John Doyle, of whom I'm not generally a fan, had a good idea in casting it with people on the upper end of the spectrum — in fact, older than the characters at their oldest — in his Cincinnati production.

According to the pre-opening Times article, Price was 22, Morrison 25, and Walton 26. So although the original idea was to limit the cast to teenagers, they ended up not doing so, even though there were some teenagers in the cast. The cast may have been mostly teenagers, but not the three leads.

Unlike garyd, I thought Weissenbach needed to be replaced. It’s possible that garyd saw him the second week of previews, and perhaps he was better then, but at the third preview, he seemed so tense and nervous. Which I think is understandable under the circumstances with audiences reacting so negatively to the show and even laughing at some of his seemingly serious lines in the first scene. Perhaps by the second week, some of that was gone. That is something about which I’m not sure at the moment, although I think there may be answers at the library that I didn’t see when I was researching there, hurriedly going through boxes of stuff. I know that the second version of the opening scene was written by the start of the second week of previews, but I'm not sure how soon they were able to get it onstage for audiences.

Btw, I've never heard that about the set, and I'm doubtful. It's the costumes that were changed a few days before audiences started coming, which may also have something to do with the use of T-shirts. Not much time to make complicated new costumes. And T-shirts emphasized that these were kids playing adults, even if that didn't fully come through to me as a major reason.

Certainly the set with which they opened was in place by the first preview, although one or two smallish adjustments were made (mostly simplifications, if memory serves).

OK, I may lose all credibility but I will cite the late Michael Feingold in my defense: I didn't think the set was that bad. In fact, I thought it worked well in some scenes. Admittedly, not so much in other scenes. Anyway, Feingold not only generally liked the show, he liked the sets. As did some other critics.

It's too bad, though, that Prince didn't go with what he wanted to do visually, which I discussed back in 2019 at the Laura Pels. I'm linking the Roundabout page with the transcript of that talk.

Forgive any typos or missing words. I should go over this one or two more times, but I've already spent a lot of time writing it.
Link Merrily talk at the Laura Pels
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